In an email dated October 4, 2013 (originally sent October 3 and subsequently updated), NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stressed the importance of player safety to the league and detailed the steps he feels the NFL has taken to show that it is a priority.
According to ESPN, the email was sent to the NFL's database of 10 million fans. The timing of the letter is no doubt related to the recent and highly-publicized instances of the NFL taking action that seems to directly undermine its commitment to player safety.
First, the league was accused of putting pressure on ESPN to back out of its collaboration with PBS on a Frontline documentary about concussions, reporting for which had spanned the last 15 months, according to Sports Illustrated. On the ESPN side, reporting had been contributed by two of its top journalists, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, who co-authored the book League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth, set to be released on Tuesday October 7.
The NFL denied pressuring ESPN, a league business partner, to end the collaboration, and ESPN released a statement saying the same. As reported by Sports Illustrated, that statement read: "The decision to remove our branding was not a result of concerns about our separate business relationship with the NFL. As we have in the past, we will continue to cover the concussion story aggressively through our own reporting."
However, Fainaru has previously indicated that he felt the NFL has pushed back against concussion stories he has written: "They have been uncomfortable with the coverage from the very beginning and before we started writing the book."
On Thursday, the NFL came under fire again when excerpts from League of Denial ran on ESPN.com and in Sports Illustrated. Using evidence from independent neuroscientists, the excerpt alleges that "the league used its economic, political and media power to attack pioneering research and try to replace it with its own."
And now, this morning, we have an email from Roger Goodell in which he asserts that the league has "an unwavering commitment to player health and making our game safer at all levels. This is, and will remain, our top priority."
In another excerpt from the letter, Goodell claims that the NFL provides the "best possible" medical care to its players:
One of the most important aspects of safety is providing players with the best possible medical care. We work closely with the NFL Players Association to ensure our players have access to the finest doctors and most cutting edge technology. In fact, a large part of our current Collective Bargaining Agreement with the players is devoted to health and safety protections.
It's worth noting that the league was willing to lockout the players to get the new collective bargaining agreement approved, largely because of the health and safety demands players were making. After months of negotiation, the league finally agreed to the formation of the $620 million Legacy Fund for those who retired before 1993, a shorter offseason and more stringent guidelines on contact in practice.
However, that didn't stop one agent, according to The Boston Globe, from calling it "the worst CBA in professional sports history," though largely due to salary issues.
In his email, Goodell also touts the NFL's commitment to research funding: "We have pledged more than $100 million to medical research over the next decade, including $30 million to the National Institutes of Health for independent research to advance the understanding of concussions."
However, a large part of League of Denial alleges that the NFL has skewed previous research initiatives to produce results that strongly diminish the link between head trauma and concussions. Will the findings of this new research initiative be reported without bias?
If you did not receive the email, it has been published in its entirety on NFL.com.
Though the NFL settled its lawsuit with former players, in which they alleged that the NFL hid findings that show a positive correlation between playing football and brain damage, on August 29, the league is far from out of hot water.
Emails from Commissioner Goodell won't appease fans who want to see transparency from the league, and who continue to wait for it to demonstrate its oft-proclaimed commitment to player safety by accepting concussion research, which only continues to grow stronger in its findings.
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