Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Credibility loses again

You could have worse days, I suppose. The Society of Guys With Pocket Protectors And Adhesive Tape On The Bridge Of Their Glasses could reject you as "not cool enough." The Philadelphia 76ers could say you can't play a lick. Turtles could refuse to let you join their jogging club because, well, you're "just too damn slow."

But Congress -- Congress! -- scolding you for unseemly behavior?

Man. That's pretty close to the lowest.

And that's what happened to the National Football League yesterday, when congressional investigators released a report accusing the Shield of trying to pressure the National Institutes of Health to take money away from a researcher critical of the NFL and give it instead to the league's paid lackeys ... er, "committee on brain injuries."

The money, $16 million, was to come from a $30 million unrestricted gift the NFL gave the NIH in 2012.

And so once again words do not match deeds for the NFL, which talks a good game about the welfare of its players but has resisted research into concussions and their connection to brain injury at virtually every turn. In that sense, trying to steer a government study toward its own people -- people who, remember, spent years telling us concussions were no big deal, and that CTE was just a crackpot theory cooked up by a bunch of football haters -- is not really news. The NFL has never had any credibility on this issue, and this is just more evidence.

But the timing of it, and the optics involved, make this revelation perhaps more damaging. By 2012, after all, the NFL was at least publicly saying it considered concussions a serious issue, and was implementing new concussion protocols and fresh prohibitions on helmet-to-helmet hits. And yet it was also continuing to drag its feet on a serious matter of player safety.

Or at least, that's how it looks. And on top of it all, there's also the matter of allegedly trying to influence the use of a gift that was supposed to be unrestricted -- i.e., the NIH could use it as it saw fit. Instead, when the NIH rebuffed the league's effort to remove neurodegenerative disease specialist Robert Stern because Stern had been publicly critical of the NFL, the NFL reneged on its pledge.  Taxpayers ended up footing the bill instead.

And so the takeaway is that the NFL, despite all its happy talk, remains so resistant to player safety it was willing to be seen as an entity whose word is worthless. And who was equally willing to leave the taxpayers holding the bag for a commitment it made.

(Of course, leaving the taxpayers holding the bag is kind of a thing in the NFL. They are world-champion freeloaders at the Shield. Just ask the good citizens of Las Vegas, who'll be on the hook for the lion's share of a proposed $1.4 billion stadium for the Raiders, who'd like to relocate there.)

In any case ... why, after this, should anyone believe a word the NFL says about player safety vis-à-vis concussions and brain trauma? And how does this not make its rank-and-file even more distrustful of the league's motives than they already were?

I mean, the worst part of yesterday was not the NFL being accused by Congress of being slimy and underhanded. The worst part was the likely reaction from the players.

Something along the lines of, "Well, duh," no doubt.

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