Cantu-Omalu Fight Over Seau’s Brain Highlights Gaps in New York Times Coverage and Questions About ‘Associate Producer’ Alan Schwarz’s Film (Part 4, ‘Game Within Head Games’)

‘Let Elite Athletes Destroy Their Own Brains – But Stop Turning High School Players Into Tackling Dummies’ (full text)
May 11, 2012
In Praise of Brandon Inge and John Axford
May 12, 2012

An important story by San Diego’s 10News has the scoop on the behind-the-scenes battle by two research groups to secure the brain of Junior Seau. This relates to my unanswered questions about the funding and the role of The New York Times’ Alan Schwarz in the documentary Head Games, which premieres next week.

See “Family Makes Decision Regarding Seau’s Brain,”

I hasten to explain why the San Diego story is not important. The National Football League wants Dr. Robert Cantu and the Boston University Center for the Study of Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy to examine Seau’s brain. The retired player community favors Dr. Bennet Omalu and the West Virginia Brain Injury Research Institute. But as an immediate practical matter, I don’t think it makes a great difference. Neither Cantu’s team nor Omalu’s is going to fabricate a finding of CTE, or suppress it.

Which is exactly where I’m going with my shadowing of the upcoming Steve James documentary about the iconic triumvirate of Cantu, Schwarz (“The Reporter”), and Chris Nowinski: it may be all about the vanity and careerism of these three gentlemen. This, in turn, would cheapen the longer-running saga of the NFL as Big Tobacco in shoulder pads, and confuse a public grappling with prospective solutions.

Now, one of the consequences when other researchers, journalists, and advocates get short shrift is that they become jealous. They also have a harder time playing prima donna at home when their wives order them to roll the trash container to the sidewalk on Wednesday night. But that’s not the problem for the rest of us.

The problem for the rest of us is that ever since April 2010, when the NFL started giving money to Cantu and Nowinski’s center, The New York Times – newspaper of record and de facto arbiter of national journalistic priorities on the concussion story – has been publishing Boston research group publicity handouts and ignoring the West Virginia group. (And just about everyone else – including those challenging the efficacy of “concussion awareness” state laws and the taxpayer-subsidized scam that is the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s for-profit ImPACT testing system.)

That’s why Schwarz and famed film director James should not duck my questions about the anonymous underwriters of Head Games. That’s also why Schwarz and his employer, The Times, must disclose the full timeline and decision-making process behind Schwarz’s sort-of departure from the concussion beat; the approval of his role as associate producer of the movie; and why all of us knew none of this when Schwarz was still writing articles about such angles as the Dave Duerson family lawsuit against the NFL.


Irv Muchnick


PREVIOUSLY (just this week):


Will Nowinski Documentary Propel Concussion Debate – Or Bog It Down in Vanity? (Part 1, ‘Game Within the Head Games’)


Email Exchange With Alan Schwarz of New York Times, Associate Producer of ‘Head Games’ Film (Part 2, ‘Game Within the Head Games’)


New York Times Refuses to Comment on Why It Didn’t Disclose Alan Schwarz Associate Producer Role in Chris Nowinski Film


Director Steve James: Concussion Documentary’s Funders Are Anonymous (Part 3, ‘Game Within Head Games’)


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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick