Why Is New York Times Reporter Alan Schwarz So Defensive About NFL / WWE Concussion Profiteer Dr. Joseph Maroon?

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May 29, 2011
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June 1, 2011
Is There Now a Feeding Frenzy of Concussion-Related Sports Suicides? (full text from Beyond Chron)
May 29, 2011
NFL Living CTE Victim Brent Boyd: ‘Where’s the Counseling? Where’s the Support?’
June 1, 2011

In the course of his whiny, egotistical, and largely fact-free email complaint to me last Friday, Alan Schwarz of The New York Times said the following:

“As far as I know your concern with the coverage stems only from your Maroon-connection-to-Riddell-study issue. Even if that were an issue, which I know it is not for reasons of which you are totally unaware, you have some nerve casting the entire work that way.”

(Schwarz’s full message and my response were posted the same day.)

One striking aspect of this passage is that it raised the issue of Dr. Joseph Maroon in response to an item by me that itself did not mention him. Moreover – as anyone plugging the term “Alan Schwarz” into this blog’s search engine can confirm – I never frontally criticized The Times for its Maroon coverage (as opposed to exhorting The Times and all media to pick up on my exposure of the fuller context of his work for the National Football League and World Wrestling Entertainment, and to connect it to the Riddell helmet investigation in a way that would make it, in my view, more meaningful).

Once again: I have not once ripped Schwarz for what he has written about Maroon.

Until today.

In a January 13 post headlined “Why Didn’t the NFL and WWE’s Dr. Maroon Speak Up About the Riddell Helmet Advertising Claims?” (http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2011/01/13/why-didn%E2%80%99t-nfl-and-wwe%E2%80%99s-dr-maroon-speak-up-about-the-riddell-helmet-advertising-claims/), I wrote:

The New York Times‘ Alan Schwarz, whose investigative article last October on the unreliable work of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) helped spur Senator Udall’s call to the FTC, reported that Maroon “disagreed with Riddell’s marketing the 31 percent figure without acknowledging its limitations, and supported Udall’s request for a formal scrutiny.”

Maroon told The Times: “That was the data that came out, but the authors of that study on multiple occasions have recommended further investigations, better controls and with larger numbers. If one is going to make statements relative to the paper we wrote, it should be with the limitations that we emphasized, and not extrapolated to studies that we suggest should be done and haven’t been done yet.”

I went on to document that Riddell had been aggressively exploiting the Maroon-co-authored and NFL-funded study of its Revolution model since no later than July 2008, and wondered why neither the doctor nor the league had raised a peep about it before it became a federal case.

The piece also included this paragraph:

I asked The Times‘ Schwarz if he had sought elaboration from Dr. Maroon as to where, when, and to whom he had ever objected to Riddell’s advertising claims exploiting his research. Schwarz declined comment.

After the article was posted, Schwarz emailed me: “Nicely done.”

On January 24, I emailed Schwarz, in part:On or off the record, your choice: Do you intend to explore the Maroon/Riddell fault line? If not, why not? Any insights from your valuable perspective would be appreciated.”

Schwarz again declined comment – but not before first going out of his way to say that Dr. Maroon had been “obviously (and surprisingly) quite generous to me” in comments in a recently published New Yorker article, and to make sure that he, Schwarz, was satisfied that my “motives” in asking the question were pure.

Now that Schwarz’s thin skin has been pierced and he is giving his crypto-assurance that Joe Maroon is a non-story, it’s time to reemphasize that Maroon is not a good guy in the NFL concussion narrative, and has not been for years. Why didn’t Schwarz press Maroon on the history of his enabling of Riddell helmet hype, rather than allow the doctor to get away with a quote triangulating the FTC investigation and distancing himself from the company? Intuitively, this made no more sense than Maroon’s parallel survival as a member of the NFL’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee for years (up to the present) beyond the exposure of his and other league doctors’ commercial conflicts of interest in Congressional hearings and in the media (some of them well-drawn stories by Schwarz himself).

This is not an attempt to brand a triviality into the main timeline. As the Pittsburgh Steelers’ neurosurgeon, Maroon was on the front rank of the apologists and deniers when Dr. Bennet Omalu identified the breakthrough cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in Mike Webster and Terry Long. Is there a better word in the English language than “lie” for the statement by Maroon that Long’s team medical file showed no concussions – a falsity chronicled by Chris Nowinski in his book Head Games? (After Maroon’s categorical denial, Omalu produced a 1987 letter by Maroon about treating Long for a concussion.)

Any way you slice it, Schwarz’s Mount Olympian dismissal of the very idea that Maroon might be more than a bit player in the national sports concussion scandal ignores a clear and chilling through-line. Maroon’s and colleagues’ articles for the journal Neurosurgery (whose editor-in-chief through much of the period was a New York Giants consultant) downplayed concussion syndrome, beat the drum for pseudo-objective neurocognitive testing in return-to-play standards, and were the direct antecedent of the current state-by-state campaign to put the costs of newfangled concussion management software on the backs of high school sports programs. (The runaway market leader in this field is the for-profit ImPACT system owned by Maroon and some of his University of Pittsburgh Medical Center colleagues.)

The DNA of this whole process is evident again in Maroon’s work for Riddell. That is why I argue that the federal government will solve nothing, and indeed will be aiding a whitewash, if it stops at a probe of the helmet industry.

Finally, if Alan Schwarz’s “reasons” for treating Dr. Joseph Maroon with kid gloves in the pages of The New York Times cannot be articulated even though the reporter initiated a reference to them in an unsolicited communication, then I am not the only reader with “reasons” to question whether the reporter’s impenetrable code here is a public service.

Irv Muchnick


1 Comment

  1. Joe Bloggs says:

    Well played Irv. Schwarz and the Times have given a pass to Maroon and the rest of the apologists, quacks and profiteers.

    With the exclusion of this blog, no one has questioned what an NFL – affliated doctor is doing advising fountain of youth clinics. Do the readers and Schwarz know what is prescirbed at these clinics – herbs, nuticeuticals and performance enhancing drugs.

    Schwarz is a writer who wouldn’t investigate a party no matter how odious his behavior because he has a relationship with this dirt bag, his NFL pals, and UPMC.

    Schwarz needs redeem himself and drip dry Maroon and Co,

Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick