NFL Acts Quickly To Dispute ESPN Concussion Study Report Which Paints League In Terrible Light
By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- When the NFL sees a story that includes false information, apparently it's not impossible for the league to act quickly in an attempt to correct the record.
That's what happened on Tuesday morning, and it stands in stark, stark contrast to what happened regarding Chris Mortensen's DeflateGate report last January.
On Tuesday, ESPN's Outside The Lines published a story which said, among other things, that the NFL declined to help fund a potentially groundbreaking study that could result in scientists being able to diagnose CTE in living humans. The report states that the NFL gave the National Institutes of Health $30 million in 2012 with "no strings attached," but the league later claimed "veto power" over what the money could be used for. And, according to the report, the NFL did not like the lead researcher of the project, Dr. Robert Stern, because he had been critical of the NFL in the past. And so, as the report claims, the NFL pulled its money from funding a project headed by Dr. Stern.
This story, written by Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada, published at 9:11 a.m. ET, according to the timestamp on ESPN.com. Though, Bob Ley tweeted the story at 9:07 a.m.
Nevertheless, it did not take long at all for the NFL to come out swinging in an effort to discredit the reporting.
That tweet from Brian McCarthy, the NFL's VP of communications, was sent at 9:42 a.m., less than an hour after the story went live.
If the NFL seeks to dispute the facts of the OTL report, then it is the league's prerogative to do so. Surely, most corporations spend millions of dollars and hours upon hours of time in efforts to control public relations and limit the damage from media reports.
Yet ... seeing this scene play out from New England, it simply cannot pass without being compared to the NFL's complete lack of reaction to a false ESPN story back in January -- aka the false report which launched a curious story about footballs potentially having a little less air in them into a national frenzy.
That report came from Mortensen, who reported two days after the AFC Championship Game that 11 of the 12 Patriots footballs were significantly underinflated -- a full 2 PSI below the allowable limit.
Those specific numbers made it impossible for the Patriots to explain any loss of air pressure due to atmospheric conditions. A full 2 PSI meant there was no possible way that the air pressure could have been measured so low unless a human being had interfered and taken air out of the footballs.
There was just one problem with this report. It was false.
It wasn't until the NFL-sponsored Wells report finally was released in early May that the public learned of the actual PSI numbers. From Page 68 of the Wells report, here are those readings. (The measurements which were a full 2 PSI under the allowable limit if 12.5-13.5 are highlighted in yellow.)
That's one reading out of 22 which came in at 2 PSI under the limit.
Obviously, Mortensen's information was false. Yet the league did not seek to correct the information. In fact, this is all that NFL spokeman Greg Aiello had to say in the report: "We are not commenting at this time."
It turned out the NFL would never comment on it, instead allowing the false information in the report not only damage the reputation of the Patriots but also create an unprecedented distraction for the team and the quarterback in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl.
And, though Mortensen finally deleted his tweet with the false information in August, the original story, full of false information, is still live on ESPN.com.
From here, it seems as though the NFL can easily issue a quick statement of correction when it deems it to be an appropriate course of action. Doing so takes less than an hour. So in the instances when the NFL has information, knows that an ESPN report contains false information, and chooses not to issue any correction whatsoever, we remain free to question the league's motives for inaction.
(In fact, "inaction" may be the wrong word. The NFL, via senior vice president David Gardi, actually informed the Patriots with false information. The team also released emails which showed the league's steadfast refusal to publicly address or correct the information once the numbers became known to be false.)
That same league, you might know, is currently in its sixth month of litigation, with the NFL issuing a strongly worded, factually lacking brief with the Second Court of Appeals on Monday.
As has been the case with just about everything in the never-ending "DeflateGate" saga, members of the public are free to draw their own conclusions.
You can email him or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.
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