The National Football League purchased advertisement space on the New York Times' website Friday, which could be seen on the same page as the paper's investigative report about what it called the NFL's "flawed concussion research."
Nick Niedzwiadek of the Wall Street Journal reported the New York Times wouldn't comment on whether the league purchased the ads directly from the outlet or through a third-party seller. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy explained the decision to run the ads, which focused on improved player safety.
"We wanted readers to have all the information about all the work that we've done to improve the safety of the game," McCarthy said, per Niedzwiadek. "We were concerned that our message was being mishandled by the Times."
He also confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that the league promoted the same message through popular social media platforms Facebook and Twitter.
The strategic decision by the NFL came one day after Alan Schwarz, Walt Bogdanich and Jacqueline Williams of the New York Times reported on problems with the league's prior concussion research, including the absence of more than 100 diagnosed concussions in the studies.
The report also explored ties between the league and the tobacco industry: "The Times has found no direct evidence that the league took its strategy from Big Tobacco. But records show a long relationship between two businesses with little in common beyond the health risks associated with their products."
The league released an extended statement in response to the article, as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk noted:
The Times' sensationalized story is further refuted by the NFL's ongoing commitment on the issue of player health and safety — notably, to the support of research, including that of our most vocal critics, on the long-term effects of concussions in all sports, and to change our game in an effort to make the sport of football as safe as it can be.
The latest round of discussions about the concussion issue comes after Jeff Miller, the NFL's senior vice president for health and safety, acknowledged a link between football-related head trauma and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, per Steve Fainaru of ESPN.com.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones denied any direct connection between the two this week, however, while awaiting more research in the area, as Mark Maske of the Washington Post relayed:
We don't have that knowledge and background and scientifically, so there's no way in the world to say you have a relationship relative to anything here. There's no research. There's no data…. We're not disagreeing. We're just basically saying the same thing. We're doing a lot more. It's the kind of thing that you want to work… to prevent injury. A big part of this is prevention. But the other part of it is to basically understand that we don't know or have any idea that there is a consequence as to any type of head injury in the future.
Ultimately, head injuries are an issue that will play a major role in the long-term viability of the league.
The fact that the NFL is fighting back so hard after Thursday's New York Times report highlights the pressure it feels to show the game has become safer and will continue to do so in the future.