Throughout the 80s and 90s, sports medicine researchers and the NCAA had been investigating the repercussions of Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries (MTBI), also called concussions. Despite the fact that the NCAA had enacted the recommendations of the Colorado Medical Society’s guidelines in 1991, it was not until 1994 that the NFL decided to study it formally. After injuries to stars like Steve Young and Troy Aikerman, the commissioner established the MTBI committee and named Elliott Pellman it’s chair.
The NFL studies concussions
In the string of recent lawsuits by ex-players against the NFL, many allege that the MTBI committee was essentially a sham which helped trick players into thinking that concussions were relatively harmless. The MTBI Committee studied the short-term effects of concussions on players and claimed that they were not serious injuries, because the players were usually sent back into the games they were injured during.
Pellman’s approach to research was insular — no research done outside of the MTBI was considered valid and so it was that the MTBI’s research disagreed with almost every other study done in the field. Intentional or not, the NFL’s research focused on recently active NFL players who were younger and often had better equipment than older players than the studies performed by those outside of the MTBI Committee.
The NFL only worked with and published the results of their own research, meaning players didn’t have easy access to the growing body of work reporting the longterm and short-term dangers of concussions. A quarter of players knocked unconscious were put back into the game despite recommendations going back to 1991 that recommends anyone who is knocked unconscious should be pulled from the game for at least a month afterwards to prevent second-concussion syndrome.