ESPN’s investigative unit has reported that Harvard’s $100 million longitudinal study of the health of retired National Football League players is in trouble. The $100 mil from the NFL Players Association was PR hooey – a failed bluff to get management to pony up half the dough.
I’ll be commenting further on all this. But first, I am reprinting below my analysis from more than 14 months ago of the original announcement of the study.
The queenpin of Super Bowl hype week will be officially announced tomorrow. The National Football League Players Association, with funding enabled by the recent collective bargaining agreement with the league, is throwing $100 million — a hundred mil! — at Harvard University. The purpose is to study a few guys across time for … God knows what. The outcome, presumably, will be to make us all feel better about the football industry’s top-to-bottom prima facie battering of the American male brain.
The stenographers of the news media — mesmerized by the Harvard brand, dazzled by the round numbers, and impressed by the activism of one of the nation’s most corrupt unions — will take it all down at the New Orleans press conference and add, “Amen.”
Unraveling the scientific speciousness, public relations dissembling, and audacious money-changing of this do-nothing project requires an entire series of articles. Let’s get started.
The study announcement is premised on a big lie, and it goes downhill from there. The lie is that “the NFLPA is alarmed that its members die nearly 20 years earlier on average than other American men.” In fact, life expectancy is not the issue — the preponderance of evidence is that pro football players live more or less as long as the general population. And the NFLPA full well knows it. This is what Hitchcock would call a MacGuffin: a non sequitur plot swerve of no relevance. The scandalous gross national product of football is its robbery of quality of life — plus all the associated and unaccounted-for public health costs. The phenomenon includes a constellation of discrete pathologies, to be sure. But the hub-and-spoke of the whole system is brain trauma.
This leads to our next point about Harvard’s impending “landmark study”: it is no such thing. Rather, it is a game of running out the clock. The announcement will emphasize how our growing focus on chronic traumatic encephelopathy has made the public forget such equally urgent matters as “searing joint pain” and “heart disorders linked to extreme strength training.”
(There is not a word about Toradol, the addictive drug that has been criminally over-prescribed by NFL doctors so as to mask both orthopedic and neurological injuries.)
Harvard’s kitchen-sink methodology, with a cohort of 1,000 guinea pigs at exorbitant cost, has the rest of the research community not only steaming with envy, but also howling with derision. According to the Boston Globe, a matched control study of the 100 healthiest and 100 sickest participants will be carried out at 26 sites — approximately 8 patients per site. This pencils out to an annual cost-per-patient of nearly $50,000. Maybe lab technicians and tenure-pimping assistant professors will be getting two-way taxi fare every day.
The NFLPA isn’t stupid. Well, it is stupid in the sense that its definition of members’ best interests is crabbed and thoroughly private-spirited. But DeMaurice Smith, executive director of an empire of collusion, knows where his nest is feathered. If you’re keeping the temperature of the football public, you can tell that there was more real outrage over Robert Griffin III’s knee injury than there was over Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide.
The Harvard study announcement, however, comes at a moment of hopeful counter-signs. With measured words and good timing, President Obama has finally said out loud a few words that might persuade some of America’s parents to begin the process of commencing to think about the possibility of considering whether they should weigh discouraging their sons from eliminating extracurricular options outside of football. (In response, Alex Boone of the San Francisco 49ers, who must be on everyone’s short list for NFL father of the year, told Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle, “If my son wants to play, he can do whatever he wants. He’s his own man.”)
Also in the last week, the Centers for Disease Control’s National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety sent letters and fact sheets to all former NFLers who played for at least five years during the period 1959 through 1988. The CDC reported brain and nervous system disorders at three times the rate of the general population. (Lou Gehrig’s Disease and Alzheimer’s were individually four times higher; Parkinson’s was about the same.)
Who will carry the day? The slick elites at Harvard who just fleeced dumb jocks out of $100 million to build a bridge to nowhere? Or the creaking wheels of government in its role of protecting public health and safety during Obama’s second term?
Irvin Muchnick’s book, Concussion Inc.: The End of Football As We Know It, will be published later in 2014 by ECW Press.