Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dr. Joseph Maroon & ‘Neurosurgery’ 2004: The Corrupt NFL Pellman-Casson-Lovell Research Team Weighs In

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Neurosurgery, January 2004 – “Duration of Cognitive Impairment after Sports Concussion.” Authors: Joseph Bleiberg, Ph.D., Alison N. Cernich, Ph.D., Kenneth Cameron, M.S., ATC, Wenyu Sun, M.D., M.P.H., Karen Peck, M. Ed., ATC, James Ecklund LTC (P), M.D., Dennis Reeves CDR, Ph.D., John Uhorchak COL, M.D., Molly B. Sparling, B.A., Deborah L. Warden, M.D.


A military study with no significant new findings. They “are consistent with the American Academy of Neurology” guidelines “suggesting a 1-week time-out from participation in contact sports” following a concussion.

In his published comment, Dr. Maroon observed: “Neurocognitive testing has been deemed the ‘cornerstone’ of proper concussion assessment and management.”


Neurosurgery, January 2004 – “Concussion in Professional Football: Epidemiological Features of Game Injuries and Review of the Literature – Part 3.” Authors: Elliot J. Pellman, M.D., John W. Powell, Ph.D., David C. Viano, Dr. med., Ph.D., Ira R. Casson, M.D., Henry Feuer, M.D., Mark Lovell, Ph.D., Joseph F. Waeckerle, M.D., Douglas W. Robertson, M.D.


All nine co-authors were members of the National Football League’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee. Since then, Dr. Pellman and Dr. Casson, in particular, have been thoroughly disgraced in separate rounds of Congressional hearings; and a reminder to all that Lovell is one of Dr. Maroon’s University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and ImPACT Applications colleagues. See this blog, passim.

The article reported on an 1996-2001 NFL study “to determine the circumstances, causes, and outcomes” of concussions. Encompassing 3,826 team games and 787 reported cases, it concluded that quarterbacks, wide receivers, and defensive secondaries were the most vulnerable to concussions. There were “2.74 symptoms/injury, and players were generally removed from the game. More than one-half of the players returned to play within 1 day, and symptoms resolved in a short time in the vast majority of cases.”

Maroon’s published comment: “The incidence was only 0.41 percussion per NFL game” (though he added that “this seemingly low incidence” was mitigated by the dependence on players themselves to report their symptoms). “The NFL and the members of the MTBI Committee of the NFL are to be commended for their concise and succinct summary.” He did not bother with a disclaimer that he was himself a member of the committee.

Series “Dr. Maroon & Neurosurgery” will continue in following posts.


“MAROONED: The NFL/WWE Doc ... the Journal Neurosurgery ... Concussions for Dummies,” May 18, http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2011/05/18/marooned-the-nflwwe-dhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifoc-%E2%80%A6-the-journal-neurosurgery-%E2%80%A6-concussions-for-dummies/

“Dr. Joseph Maroon & ‘Neurosurgery’ 1999-2000: Origins of ‘ImPACT’,” May 18, http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2011/05/18/dr-joseph-maroon-neurosurgery-1999-2000-origins-of-%E2%80%98impact%E2%80%99/

“Dr. Joseph Maroon & ‘Neurosurgery’ 2002: ‘Cumulative Effects’,” May 19, http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2011/05/19/dr-joseph-maroon-%E2%80%98neurosurgery%E2%80%99-2002-%E2%80%98cumulative-effects%E2%80%99/

Irv Muchnick

Author Muchnick Interviewed on Montreal Radio About Death of Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage

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Irvin Muchnick, author of CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death, was interviewed about the death of Randy “Macho Man” Savage and related topics today by Dan Delmar of CJAD Radio in Montreal. The audio file can be accessed at http://muchnick.net/cjad52311.mp3 (the interview begins at about the 2:00 mark).

Boogaard: Alcohol And Oxycodone

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According to new wire service reports, the death of Derek Boogaard was caused by an accidentally fatal mix of alcohol and the painkiller oxycodone.

The original first sentence of my new column for Beyond Chron, which will be published Monday, was going to be, “We don’t yet know why hockey player Derek Boogaard died at 28, but we do know that his family immediately donated his brain to the chronic traumatic encephalopathy research group in Boston, led by Dr. Robert Cantu and spearheaded by Harvard alum and retired World Wrestling Entertainment performer Chris Nowinski.”

This development causes me to tweak that sentence. But it doesn’t change the essence of the piece, headlined “Is There Now a Feeding Frenzy of Concussion-Related Sports Suicides?”

Irv Muchnick

My Monday Piece For Beyond Chron, Plus Other Program Notes

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My column “Is There Now a Feeding Frenzy of Concussion-Related Sports Suicides?” will be published Monday at Beyond Chron, the San Francisco online newspaper.

The series here on Dr. Joseph Maroon and the journal Neurosurgery will resume next week.

A huge WWE star of years past, Randy Poffo (“Macho Man Savage”), died this morning at 58 in a car crash in Tampa. According to early reports, he either suffered fatal injuries in the crash or died from the heart attack that caused him to lose control of the car. The tragedy does not appear to have any special significance for the themes of this blog.

WWE’s New Health Insurance Mandate For Its ‘Contract’ Wrestlers Seems Politically Tone-Deaf

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Mike Johnson of Pro Wrestling Insider is reporting that World Wrestling Entertainment (or, excuse me, The New WWE) has started requiring its wrestlers to carry their own health insurance. See “Big, Big Change to WWE Contracts,” http://www.pwinsider.com/article/58111/big-big-change-to-wwe-contracts.html?p=1.

Through other sources, I have confirmed that Johnson’s scoop is accurate. The questions are “why?” and, perhaps especially, “why now?”

By coincidence, this news leaks out just as the leading company in the cousin mixed martial arts industry, Ultimate Fighting Championship, has announced innovative and comprehensive health insurance coverage for all its fighters.

WWE clings to a legalistic fiction that its “talents” are all independent contractors rather than employees – an assertion now under investigation by the Connecticut Labor Department. So not only does the company look very bad in comparison to UFC; WWE also is giving the finger to those who maintain that it is their responsibility to take care of the people whose daily sweat of the brow builds this global, billion-dollar brand. Effectively, Vince McMahon and his once-and-future-Senate-candidate wife Linda are saying, “We agree that the work we are assigning cannot be performed unless there is a guarantee that the substantial long-term, as well as short-term, medical bills will be paid. Now, Punkilious Preposterous, please produce the documentation that you have someone who will pay them – in addition to bringing your own tights and tan-spray to the next TV taping.”

My guess – and it’s only that – is that this corporate decision had nothing to do with the political ramifications and was a bottom-line call by Stamford bean-counters. WWE already “generously” pays medical bills for confirmed WWE ring injuries and “magnanimously” underwrites drug rehab for all current and former talent. The new health insurance mandate for its “contractors” seems designed to shift some of that burden. Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter is the best at acquiring and crunching the numbers related to these sorts of questions, and I look forward to his analysis.

Irv Muchnick

Dr. Joseph Maroon & ‘Neurosurgery’ 2002: ‘Cumulative Effects’

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Neurosurgery, November 2002 – “Cumulative Effects of Concussion in High School Athletes.” Authors: Michael W. Collins, Ph.D., Mark R. Lovell, Ph.D., Grant L. Iverson, Ph.D., Robert C. Cantu, M.D., Joseph C. Maroon, M.D., Melvin Field, M.D.


This article is intrinsically unremarkable. The two lead authors, Collins and Lovell, are, of course, Dr. Maroon’s University of Pittsburgh Medical Center colleagues and ImPACT Applications partners. Labeling itself “the first to suggest a cumulative effect of concussions in high school athletes,” the article concluded with “the need for more long-term outcome studies.”

The historical context, however, is striking: 2002 was the year the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Webster died; it was a researcher outside the football establishment, Dr. Bennet Omalu of the Pittsburgh coroner’s office, who identified Webster’s chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which sent the field into its current tizzy.

Speaking of Maroon and Omalu and dead Pittsburgh Steelers ... Maroon during this period was beginning to display his penchant for lying about his familiarity with evidence in brain-injury death cases. Three years after Webster, anothehttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifr Steeler, Terry Long, committed suicide by drinking antifreeze, and Omalu found CTE in Long’s brain, too. Maroon attacked Omalu’s “fallacious reasoning” and said, “I was the team neurosurgeon during Long’s entire tenure with the Steelers, and I still am. I re-checked my records; there was not one cerebral concussion documented in him during those entire seven years.” But Long’s files included a 1987 letter by Maroon recommending that Long be held out of action for two weeks after suffering a concussion.

The source for this is Chris Nowinski’s book Head Games. See “Dr. Joseph Maroon’s Disturbing Pattern of Misstatements,” January 5, http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/dr-joseph-maroons-disturbing-pattern-of-misstatements/.http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

Series “Dr. Maroon & Neurosurgery” will continue in following posts.


“MAROONED: The NFL/WWE Doc ... the Journal Neurosurgery … Concussions for Dummies,” May 18, http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2011/05/18/marooned-the-nflwwe-doc-%E2%80%A6-the-journal-neurosurgery-%E2%80%A6-concussions-for-dummies/

“Dr. Joseph Maroon & ‘Neurosurgery’ 1999-2000: Origins of ‘ImPACT’,” May 18, http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2011/05/18/dr-joseph-maroon-neurosurgery-1999-2000-origins-of-%E2%80%98impact%E2%80%99/

Irv Muchnick

Dr. Joseph Maroon & ‘Neurosurgery’ 1999-2000: Origins of ‘ImPACT’

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Neurosurgery, October 1999 – A review of the just-published anthology Sports-Related Concussion, edited by Julian E. Bailes, Mark R. Lovell, and Joseph C. Maroon


Reviewer Kevin J. Gibbons called the book “excellent and comprehensive.” The piece said Sports-Related Concussion “merits inclusion in the libraries of all neurosurgeons, as well as any physician acting as a team physician or consultant, including neurologists, psychiatrists, general practitioners, and pediatricians. In addition, physicians involved firsthand as participants, parents, or coaches will benefit from this work.”

Dr. Joseph Maroon’s first co-author, Dr. Julian Bailes, initially would work with the Boston group of chronic traumatic encephalopathy researchers, organized by Chris Nowinski and headed by Dr. Robert Cantu, when Nowinski launched the Sports Legacy Institute in 2007. Bailes later broke off from the Boston group and now directs the Brain Injury Research Institute at West Virginia University.

Maroon’s second co-author, Mark Lovell, also of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, would go on to become one of Maroon’s partners in ImPACT Applications, a company marketing concussion-management software.


Neurosurgery, September 2000 – “Cerebral Concussion in Athletes: Evaluation and Neuropsychological Testing.” Authors: Joseph C. Maroon, M.D., Mark R. Lovell, Ph.D., John Norwig, A.T.C., Kenneth Podell, Ph.D., John W. Powell, Ph.D., A.T.C., and Roger Hartl, M.D.


The article chronicled “a topic review of studies related to cerebral concussion in athletes, as an aid to improving decision-making and outcomes,” and concluded that neuropsychological testing “seems to be an effective way to obtain useful data on the short-term and long-term effects of mild traumatic brain injury.”

Maroon and co-authors stated that they had developed a series of neurocognitive tests to assist in determining whether and when concussed athletes could return to play – tests already used by both the National Football League and the National Hockey League, and under evaluation at the college and high school levels.

The article cited a study finding that standards promulgated in 1980 by the National Operating Committee for Safety in Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) had resulted in a marked reduction in the incidence of mild traumatic brain injury in football since that date.

The article reviewed findings for Second-Impact Syndrome (SIS), a term coined in the literature in 1973. “[I]t must be concluded that SIS is an infrequent finding, predominately involves young athletes, and only rarely is fatal.”

The article then discussed the evolution of neuropsychological testing developed at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center starting in 1989, and eventually taking on the acronym IMPACT (for “Immediate Measurement of Performance and Cognitive Testing”). The authors emphasized that preseason baseline evaluation was essential, and was compared with reevaluation of a concussed player 24 to 48 hours after the injury, and again five days later.

The article moved on to the question “how many concussions are too many?” It quoted Dr. Eliot Pellman, head of the NFL’s concussion committee, as calling concussion management “more of an art than a science.” Pellman is now thoroughly disgraced for, among other things, his own articles in Neurosurgery, beginning in 2003, at a time when the journal was edited by Dr. Michael Apuzzo, a consultant for the New York Giants. One of Pellman’s articles came under heavy criticism by Dr. Robert Cantu, and it was later revealed that Pellman had revised an article subsequent to peer review and without consulting his co-authors. Both the NFL and Major League Baseball dumped Pellman as a consultant.

Maroon and co-authors concluded by predicting that neurocognitive testing – “easily administered” with “low-cost, computerized instruments” – would expand beyond pro and college athletes to become a staple at high schools, and “may help to improve the safety and extend the playing life of athletes in contact sports.”

Published commenters on the article had some praise of it as a review of existing literature and some criticism of it for presenting little or no original research.

Series “Dr. Maroon & ‘Neurosurgery’” will continue in following posts.

Irv Muchnick

MAROONED: The NFL/WWE Doc … the Journal Neurosurgery ... Concussions for Dummies

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I am completing a reading task that is required for deeper understanding of the national sports concussion scandal: all articles by or referring to Dr. Joseph Maroon in Neurosurgery, the official journal of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Maroon, a long-time neurologist for the Pittsburgh Steelers and spokesperson for the National Football League’s committee on traumatic brain injury, also since 2008 has held the title of medical director of World Wrestling Entertainment.

This post introduces a series with my notes on pertinent historical Neurosurgery articles. Some of the information here has been published previously in dribs and drabs. Notably, ESPN’s Peter Keating in 2007 did much to expose the general conflicts of interest of NFL-affiliated doctors and researchers, and specifically revealed how Pitt Med Center clinicians involved in the marketing of Maroon’s for-profit ImPACT concussion management software manipulated the academic journal process to produce commercial hype.

The New York Times
and The New Yorker are responsible for elevating the concussion issue from the sports pages to the national agenda. Times reporter Alan Schwarz gets the lion’s share of credit for ongoing federal government investigations of the safety claims of football helmet manufacturers, as well as the current proposed legislation introduced by Senator Tom Udall.

However, in my view, The Times frames the story inadequately. The Gray Lady would prefer to spur much too gentlemanly an outcome: a reprise of President Teddy Roosevelt’s football reforms of a century ago. The problem is that this sport and associated ones are no longer character-building rituals by Ivy League elites buffing their resumes in anticipation of careers on Wall Street and in other ruling-class institutions. Football today is a global multi-layered mega-industry. The urgency of reducing the human toll of this culture, across all classes and races, exceeds the scope of legislating helmets or any other piece of hardware, or mumbling bromides about changing the way players block and tackle.

In its January coverage of the controversy surrounding Riddell helmets, The Times quoted Dr. Maroon – co-author of the Neurosurgery article that was the basis for the company’s promotion – as claiming Riddell quoted him out of context. But Maroon (who doesn’t return my own calls or emails) was not asked if he ever so complained, in public or in private, prior to the initiation of a Federal Trade Commission investigation of Riddell.

In his January article in The New Yorker, “Does Football Have a Future?”, writer Ben McGrath quoted Maroon as calling The Times’ Schwarz “the Socratic gadfly in this whole mix.” Maroon added: “What we’re seeing now is [a] major cultural shift, and I think Alan took a lot of barbs, and a lot of hits, initially, for his observations.”

I am not accusing The New York Times, The New Yorker, Alan Schwarz, or Ben McGrath of being in the tank for Joseph Maroon or the NFL. I am just pointing out that those august journals have their job to do, and I have mine.

Irv Muchnick

NEXT, Dr. Joseph Maroon & Neurosurgery 1999-2000: Origins of ‘ImPACT’



“Roundup of Coverage of Pittsburgh Steelers / NFL / WWE Doc Joseph Maroon’s Misstatements and Ethical Shortcuts on Concussion Research,” January 21, http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2011/01/21/roundup-of-coverage-of-pittsburgh-steelers-nfl-wwe-doc-joseph-maroon%E2%80%99s-misstatements-and-ethical-shortcuts-on-concussion-research/

“Sports Concussion Scandal Ground Zero: NFL and WWE Doc Joseph Maroon’shttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif Hype Article in Neurosurgery on Riddell Football Helmets,” January 23, http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2011/01/23/sports-concussion-scandal-ground-zero-nfl-and-wwe-doc-joseph-maroon%E2%80%99s-hype-article-in-%E2%80%98http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifneurosurgery%E2%80%99-on-riddell-football-helmets/

“Timeline of Dr. Joseph Maroon’s Work as WWE Medical Director,” January 24, http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/timeline-of-dr-joseph-maroon%E2%80%99s-work-as-wwe-medical-director/

“What the Feds Must Investigate About WWE-NFL Doc Joseph Maroon’s ImPACT Concussion Product,” March 23, http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/introducing-%E2%80%98what-the-feds-must-investigate-about-wwe-nfl-doc-joseph-maroon%E2%80%99s-impact-concussion-product%E2%80%99/

“Subpoena Cena: Does WWE Medical Director Joseph Maroon’s ImPACT System Manage Concussions Manage Concussions – Or Merely ‘Manage’ ‘Concussions’?”, March 23, http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/subpoena-cena-does-wwe-medical-director-joseph-maroon%E2%80%99s-impact-system-manage-concussions-%E2%80%93-or-merely-%E2%80%98manage%E2%80%99-%E2%80%98concussions%E2%80%99/

“FLASHBACK: ESPN’s Peter Keating Was First to Expose NFL and WWE Concusshttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifion Doc Joseph Maroon’s Conflicts of Interest,” March 24, http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2011/03/24/flashback-espn%E2%80%99s-peter-keating-was-first-to-expose-nfl-and-wwe-concussion-doc-joseph-maroon%E2%80%99s-conflicts-of-interest/

“In FoxSports.com Story, Doc Confirms Report on Ritalin and Beating Concussion Tests,” April 21, http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2011/04/21/in-foxsports-com-story-doc-confirms-report-on-ritalin-and-beating-concussion-tests/

“’ImPACT’ of Dr. Maroon’s and Colleagues’ Writings,” March 25, http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/impact-of-dr-maroons-and-colleagues-writings/

Football Helmet Safety Generals Are Fighting Last War – While the Current One Kills and Stupefies Youth Athletes

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The lobbying money is pouring in as the lines get drawn around the Children’s Sports Athletic Equipment Safety Act introduced by Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico and Congressman Bill Pascrell of New Jersey. The Associated Press story is at http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5j7QeqP4ZtPZOJyknc16C-5-ssBVg?docId=687abd45267f48798c5dc0baa717c202.

Far be it from me to defend the helmet industry, but someone needs to tell the federal government that its helmet-safety crusade is a gigantic misfire in the overall national sports concussion crisis.

When Senator Harry Truman investigated shoddy military parts by World War II profiteers, it helped catapult him to the vice presidency. But back then the underlying endeavor was one of national purpose and consensus. The truly frightening thing about sports concussions, especially in football, is the range and importance of the punches pulled by our political leaders in service of an entertainment activity that is not a war, except by metaphor, and is endangering youth physical and mental health, warping education, and decimating American productivity by, quite literally, draining our brains.

In this equation, exposing whatever shortcuts helmet manufacturers or budget-restricted families and amateur athletic programs might have taken ranks far down the list of national priorities.

The problem starts at the top, with the National Football League and its bought-and-paid-for doctors and researchers, who have sold the media, the public, and now Congress on the illusion of a better mousetrap. The scandal resides much deeper, in places where polite conversation refuses to go – such as to how Riddell helmets got hyped and legitimated in the first place by the NFL and its brain-injury guru Dr. Joseph Maroon (also the “medical director” of World Wrestling Entertainment), and how Maroon and his cronies have used the same pseudo-academic channels to plug their now-discredited for-profit ImPACT concussion system rather than publish the full truth about the chronic traumatic encephalopathy pandemic in this country.

More about Maroon from here shortly.

Irv Muchnick

Pro Hockey Player Derek Boogaard Is Dead. So Is Amateur Football Player Nathan Stiles.

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Derek Boogaard of the National Hockey League’s New York Rangers, a notorious brawler who had been sidelined since December with a concussion, has been found dead at 28 and his family has donated his brain to the Boston chronic traumatic encephalopathy research group headed by http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifChrishttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif Nowinski and Dr. Robert Cantu.

Meanwhile, Laura Bauer of the
Kansas City Star has been writing a multi-part series on Nathan Stiles, a high school football player from Spring Hill, Missouri, who died from a head injury at 17. Here are the links:



Below is the text of an email to the
Star’s Bauer by Missouri writer Matt Chaney, author of Spiral of Denial: Muscle Doping in American Football, who is now reporting on the sports concussion crisis.


Your current series on the Nathan Stiles tragedy is a fine tribute to a family, their religion and forgiveness—because this story is about forgiveness, of a mistake by someone or something, given the fact Nathan DID return to football when he shouldn’t have.

Football’s invalid and unreliable concussion “guidelines” and/or “testing” failed Nathan, Laura, even if he misled people to think he was asymptomatic of his first concussion and ready to return.

I have spoken on-record with Dr. Robert Cantu of Boston about Nathan’s case, in a tape-recorded telephone interview, and I continue to communicate with Dr. Bennet Omalu in California. These experts represent the two research labs currently analyzing Nathan’s case postmortem.

Yes, the subdural hematoma Nathan suffered in the Oct. 28 game killed him, led to his death the following morning.

However, Nathan also suffered a RE-BLEED or ‘second-impact’ concussion on Oct. 28, which, barring further lab results, means Dr. Ratzlaff’s “guidelines” failed–or football’s current “concussion management” failed–and everyone missed the apparent fact Nathan was still suffering trauma of his original Oct. 1 concussion when he was returned to play on Oct. 22 and 28.

This is Dr. Cantu’s exchange with me on Dec. 21, 2010, regarding his research’s group work to that point with Nathan’s brain slides:

Cantu: “His original CT was normal…

Chaney: “Right.”

Cantu: “And he took additional trauma and that CT showed a subdural.”

Chaney: “I’ll be darn. Yeah, see the news reports–I couldn’t quite jibe all that , because several reports are stating that the subdural hematoma was result of the October 1 incident, and then it was missed leading up to his first return to action on the 22nd. So under your understanding, the subdural occurred on the second impact, perhaps–or a second impact, perhaps?”

Cantu: “A second impact, and whether there was any bleeding in between–and then the bleeding got a great deal worse–that we don’t know. … He played the final game of the season, and in that one suffered a combined second-impact [concussion] and a subdural, both.”

Chaney: “Wow. Isn’t that something. And there’s one that got by [concussion testing]. Is it fair to say there’s just so much we still don’t know? About managing these situations? How do you feel about it today? The state of concussion management, especially in a vast environment of athletes like tackle football in the United States?”

Cantu: “I think the most important thing, Matt, is… and I’ve talked with Mrs. Stiles, Connie Stiles, and she tells me that [Nathan] was not telling her he had symptoms. I really wonder whether that’s accurate [no symptoms]. … I have a very hard time thinking he was asymptomatic.”

Chaney: “Right, right. So it really takes some specialized training here…”

Cantu: “I think so, and it takes honesty on the part of the individual as they’re symptomatic with headache, nausea, on and on and on, to come forward with it. It’s not safe to play with it.”

Bottom line, Laura, Mr. And Mrs. Stiles have every right to forgive and forget here. But more preventable second-impacts will happen in prep football, with or without catastrophic injury like a subdural, because “concussion testing” and http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif“guidelines” are invalid, missing countless still-concussed athletes by rates of 25 to 50 percent, according to numerous reviewing experts worldwide.

What must be adopted for juvenile concussed athletes is a mandatory layoff of at least 1 to 3 months, proposed in varying lengths by brain experts like Omalu, Dr. Lester Mayers and Dr. Randall Benson. THAT would have saved Nathan’s life from football mortality as a teenager.

No one has the right to stifle or distort that message. No one. Other football families must be properly informed.

Matt Chaney


‘Government’s Sports Priorities Value Business Over Public Health’ (full text)

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[originally published May 9 at http://www.beyondchron.org/articles/Government_s_Sports_Priorities_Value_Business_Over_Public_Health_9163.html]

by Irvin Muchnick

Some day the next Edward Gibbon will come along to chronicle the obsessive triviality of the succession of boy-kings we’ve been choosing to manage the late period of the American empire. In his own half-term-plus, President Obama has regularly taken time out to issue March Madness brackets. Meanwhile, he has delivered a single Oval Office speech, late and unspecific, on why he opened a third front of foreign wars.

Now, amidst mounting evidence that our out-of-control sports industries are producing, literally, a generation of bird brains, the Justice Department Antitrust Division has positioned its teeth where they can really bite: on how college football’s Bowl Championship Series might be illegally hoarding glory and moolah on behalf of just a few of the most powerful athletic conferences.

Fittingly, news of the BCS probe leaked the same week in which researchers in Boston released the expected finding on the chronic traumatic encephalopathy that had deadened portions of the brain of former National Football League star Dave Duerson, who committed suicide three months ago.

If Obama and his advisers could be persuaded to redirect their focus from the real and present danger of a mythical football championship, they might want to ponder how the fewer than one percent of exploited college players who “graduate” to the NFL confront a health and disability system that likely wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny in any other $9-billion-a-year industry.

The most explosive element of the confirmation that Duerson had CTE was the fact that he was an NFL Players Association representative on the joint management-player committee that rules on retired players’ disability claims. In that capacity, Duerson had parroted the owners’ line that there was no proof of the link between football and brain injuries – even as what we now know was his own case of CTE clouded his judgment. Duerson’s once-formidable food distribution business went into receivership, and he went bankrupt and his marriage collapsed. His loss of impulse control manifested itself in an expletive-laden diatribe against NFL legends Sam Huff and Bernie Parrish during a break at a 2007 Senate Commerce Committee hearing.

I first reported this last anecdote immediately after Duerson’s suicide, and advocated that 11 rejected claims of retired players’ families for dementia-related medical expenses, plus an untold number of other mental-illness claims rejected on his watch, be reopened in light of the information that Duerson himself had diminished mental capacity and therefore inadequately represented his fellow athletes.

Last week, following the announcement of the CTE finding, coverage in The New York Times raised the same point. John Hogan, an attorney representing many ex-NFLers fighting legal battles over rejected claims, told The Times that he was considering asking the Labor Department to conduct an audit of the cases on which the NFL Player Care panel ruled during Duerson’s tenure.

The Duerson factor is only one piece of what could should be a wide-ranging investigation, either by the Labor Department or by Senator Tom Udall, who is spurring examinations of football helmet marketing. The White House could help by sending as enthusiastic a signal on the concussion issue as it did to Justice on the BCS. The NFL Player Retirement Plan, named for the late commissioners Bert Bell and Pete Rozelle, is governed by ERISA – the Employment Retirement Income Security Act. There are allegations that the plan is underfunded, routinely ignores ERISA regulations for adjudicating claims, and is riddled with conflicts of interest and “doctor shopping” practices.

Curators of Duerson’s legacy currently are peddling the narrative that he is a hero of concussion reform. Nonsense: though his suicide called attention http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifthttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifo the cause and cannot be discounted, his was the 15th deceased pro football player’s brain to be studied for CTE – and the 14th to turn up positive. Sportswriters and Duerson’s other friends need to put down their hankies and follow the real and harder-hitting implications of their logic.

Dave Duerson – who played college football at Notre Dame and later served as a university trustee, before being forced to resign after an arrest for battering his wife – isn’t around to tell us what he thinks of Obama’s BCS crusade. But I know what I think: it is a distraction from the concussion crisis, the No. 1 off-the-field issue in sports today.

Irvin Muchnick (http://muchnick.net; blog http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com) is author of CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

In Concussion Reform Advocacy, ‘Peer Review’ Is Not Always Clear Review

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Activist movements have morphologies. At this moment the national sports concussion fight, like many others, is bogged down in a fetish over “peer-reviewed scientific literature.” I argue that a lot of the vaunted peer-review process is pompous bunk – a ritual by elites to demonstrate their eliteness while giving aid and comfort to the status quo.

Peer review is a bit like another academic institution: tenure in higher education. The concept is that it promotes intellectual freedom. But in all too many cases, those who have it don’t need it, and those who need it don’t have it.

In 2007 Chris Nowinski started his Sports Legacy Institute in Boston and got the brain of dead pro wrestler Chris Benoit for Dr. Bennet Omalu to study. When the Boston group announced that Benoit (who, at age 40, had murdered his wife and their 7-year-old son before killing himself) had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the corporation of professional liars that had employed him, World Wrestling Entertainment, derided the finding as “not published in a peer-reviewed journal.” Then, when Omalu published a paper about it in a peer-reviewed journal, it was “only” the Journal of Forensic Nursing, not one of the high-end publications like Neurosurgery. Of course, the reason was that Omalu, for a time and for all intents and purposes, had been blackballed by Neurosurgery, which was in the National Football League’s pocket. Earlier this year Omalu did resume publishing in Neurosurgery; I’m waiting for the next pointless excuse from the naysayers.

Some of us who admire Nowinski’s work with SLI and want to see its mission succeed worry that he is falling into the peer-review trap. We also worry that the NFL’s $1 million grant to SLI’s sister Center for the Study of CTE at Boston University will become part of a larger pattern of delay and dilution.

The Boston group has said that it is moving away from announcements to journalistic outlets and toward releasing findings only after they are published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. They made an exception 11 days ago with the Dave Duerson press conference because, Dr. Robert Cantu explained, they always bow to the wishes of the family.

But even assuming that the policy is plausible, I believe the wishes of the family are precisely the wrong exception. As a result of Nowinski and company’s own logic and energy, sports concussions are a major societal issue. Instead of pontificating about peer review and then making exceptions when it’s convenient, I would rather hear the response to a call from Omalu, in his forthcoming Neurosurgery article, for new protocols allowing automatic CTE study of postmortem brains of certain populations, such as athletes in contact sports.

Please don’t tell me I’m being simplistic. I’m being simple. Obviously, there’s a role for editorial gatekeepers – in academia, journalism, and elsewhere. The point is that we don’t need to study 500 more dead football players’ brains before coming to common-sense conclusions about important actions and political solutions. Take it from an old college dropout: peer-review rhetoric is mumbo-jumbo.

Irv Muchnick

Sure, ‘Change the Way Football Is Played.’ But Also Change Who Is Allowed to Play It.

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Readers of this blog should know two things by now: (1) I have the highest regard for the people who have done and are doing the serious work in the trenches on sports brain injury research; and (2) While reasonable people can disagree on when the tipping point was reached, we need fewer angels dancing on the heads of pins, in exchange for more concrete steps to prevent chronic traumatic encephalopathy on the front end and, if possible, develop cures at the back end.

For the former, I’m pretty dubious that helmet reform is much of an answer, and I’ll explain why with an analogy. A lot of people have the perception that the end of bareknuckles boxing made the sport less brutal, when the opposite was actually the case. Gloves protect the hands that hit, not the heads that get hit. Relieved of much of the fear that they would break their hands, gloved boxers started punching harder than ever. Mandatory eight counts, three-knockdown rules, limiting the number of rounds, stopping bloodbaths, and other measures did civilize boxing to a degree, but mostly at the level of image. No one who understands how these things work really believes that as a live-and-death matter, boxing is less, rather than more, dangerous than it used to be.

The focus on football helmet safety might very well be a similar public-health trap. The industrial demands of modern football make the helmet as much a weapon as it is a piece of protective gear.

Of course, we can and should do our best with helmet design. We also need changes in rules and in coaching culture. But jeez, the volume of accidents happening with athletes of this size and speed is well beyond acceptable, even if we assume that they’re accidents. The confidence with which some experts project threading the needle here is, intuitively, as absurd as that old Hawaii Five-O episode in which an assassin created a decoy by arranging to have himself shot at long range exactly one-eighth of an inch from his heart.

The reform that needs to get sustained discussion is not the installation of National Football League and World Wrestling Entertainment doctor Joseph Maroon’s ImPACT concussion management software in high school athletic departments. The national conversation we need to be having is about is whether the sport of football should be played at all before age X. I don’t pretend to know what “X” should be; only that the current murmur about the subject is so tossed-off as to be far short of a paradigm shift.http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

Today’s Chicago Sun-Times has an article about a speaking appearance by Dr. Ann McKee, a doctor of pathology at Boston University who did the Dave Duerson brain study and probably has received fewer mentions here than she deserves. See http://www.suntimes.com/sports/football/5329586-419/doctor-football-must-change-rules-to-protect-players.html.

The headline on the story is “Doctor: Football must change rules to protect players.” Yet the last paragraph of the story has this quote from McKee:

“I don’t think 10-year-olds need to play tackle football. I’ve already told my son he’s got to stop playing.”

I look forward to stories that stop burying the lead and give us headlines like this: “Doctor: Youth football must be banned.”

Irv Muchnick

A Rose Is a Rose Is a Rose – Until It’s CTE in a Football Player

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Yesterday I apologized for falsely suggesting that Dr. Robert Cantu had airbrushed the history of chronic traumatic encephalopathy research in his remarks last week at the Dave Duerson brain study press conference.

Today I offer an extended P.S. on the nuances of that research and its political landmines. The story of CTE involves maimed and prematurely dead athletes, of course. But it also includes egos, grants, media coverage … in sum, careers. The behind-the-scenes rivalry between the Boston research group, led by the Sports Legacy Institute’s Chris Nowinski and Boston University Medical Center’s Cantu, and the West Virginia research group, led by Drs. Julian Bailes and Bennet Omalu, is a glimpse into that world. The stakes are high for the parties – and for the rest of us.

Let’s stipulate that any controversy over the origins of the naming of this brain disease is a sideshow in comparison with the substance of what Omalu brought to the table – unfortunately, it was literally the autopsy table – over the last decade. I would summarize it thusly:

- For many years, there was an understanding that boxers suffered various symptoms resembling Parkinson’s Disease, accompanied by dementia.

- There was also an escalating appreciation that people in all walks of life who suffered major traumatic brain injury could develop a disease that resembled Alzheimer’s.http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

- Beginning with Mike Webster in 2002 and continuing through to the Nowinski group’s initial and breakthrough finding, on pro wrestler Chris Benoit in 2007, Omalu put what we now call CTE on the map. Omalu determined that minor blows to the head, over time, with or without documentation – notably in football, hockey, lacrosse, and wrestling – could result in a disease distinct from Alzheimer’s. Omalu is publishing an overview on all this in the journal Neurosurgery; it is available in advance in electronic form, and I wrote about it here on March 9. See “Concussion Research Pioneer Bennet Omalu Returns to ‘Neurosurgery’ Journal,” http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/concussion-research-pioneer-bennet-omalu-returns-to-%E2%80%98neurosurgery%E2%80%99-journal/.

Omalu has defined CTE as a disease entity. He also has confirmed that what we used to think of as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s or their offshoots are not these diseases in victims of CTE, which has distinct pathognomonic diagnostic features.

Nomenclature aside, there was no media attention given to CTE until after the publication of the Mike Webster paper in 2005.

About that nomenclature:

* There is evidence that “punch drunk syndrome” in boxers, or dementia pugilistica, was also being called “traumatic encephalopathy” as early as the 1930s.

* A 1996 paper in Pathology, “Dementia Pugilistica in an Alcoholic Achondroplastic Dwarf,” by David J. Williams and Anthony E.G. Tannenberg,” says that dementia pugilistica is “otherwise known as chronic progressive post-traumatic encephalopathy of boxing.” Not exactly the same as CTE – though so close that I probably would have felt compelled yesterday to clarify and apologize to the Boston folks even if they hadn’t also shared with me ...

* A 1966 paper from Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, “Mental Sequelae of Head Injury,” by Henry Miller, has a subsection headed “Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy.” Though Miller did not seem to go anywhere with this term in the body of the article, nor give it the abbreviation CTE, the exact sequence of the three words clinched at least the minimal point that great minds prior to Omalu had thought at least somewhat alike. And it confirmed that I’d stubbed my toe in my May 3 story on Duerson.

I haven’t yet gotten to my promised oration on how fetishized peer-review literature too often amounts to trees falling in a forest with no one around to hear or act on them. I’ll get to that next, I think.

Irv Muchnick

Will Senator Blumenthal Strut His Stuff on Sports Concussions and Pro Wrestling Regulation?

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Connecticut Capitol Report (http://ctcapitolreport.com), whose Tom Dudchik writes catchier headlines than your humble blogger, links to a story about Senator Richard Blumental’s latest handiwork at the Judiciary Committee with the tag “Blumenthal struts his ‘Attorney General’ stuff in front of Apple, Google suits.”

The story itself, by Deirdre Shesgreen of the CT Mirror, under the more Muchnickian headline “Blumenthal in his element at privacy, anti-trust hearings,” is at http://ctmirror.com/story/12558/blumenthaltech.

Here’s hoping that in the near future Dudchik will find himself hyperlinking “SMACKDOWN! PERSONAL FOUL! Blumenthal confronts WWE medical doctor and NFL concussion profiteer Joseph Maroon.”

Irv Muchnick

Clarification: The Term ‘Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy’ Does Date Back to 1969

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A couple of different readers, with a couple of different viewpoints, have told me that my coverage of the announcement of Dave Duerson’s chronic traumatic encephalopathy maligned Boston University’s Dr. Robert Cantu by stating that he had vaguely backdated the definition and naming of the disease in a way that disrespects the work of Dr. Bennet Omalu.

On this point, I think the critics are right and I was wrong, so let me correct the record here.http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

After that, I’ll proceed to explain why I believe exposure of my error only deepens the suspicions that the sports medical establishment fell down on the job and that the National Football League was none too eager to see that a better jhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifob be done.

What Cantu said in Boston a week ago Monday was that CTE was identified in boxers as “punch drunk syndrome” in the 1920s, and “since the sixties and especially the seventies it has been known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, with multiple case reports in the world’s clinical and neuropathological literature.” (The press conference video is at http://www.bu.edu/buniverse/view/?v=1GIhOEcN.)

That is accurate. Nor is there any reason to dispute this fuller chronology by the Sports Legacy Institute at http://sportslegacy.org/index.php/science-a-medicine/chronic-traumatic-encephalopathy:

The term “Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy” appears in the medical literature as early as 1969 and is now the preferred term. Through 2009 there were only 49 cases described in all medical literature since 1928, 39 of whom were boxers. Many thought this was a disease exclusive to boxers, although cases have been identified in a battered wife, an epileptic, two mentally challenged individuals with head-banging behavior, and an Australian circus performer who was also involved in what the medical report authors referred to as “dwarf-throwing.”

CTE remained under the radar when a Pittsburgh medical examiner named Bennet Omalu identified CTE in two former Pittsburgh Steelers who died in his jurisdiction in 2002 and 2005. He published his findings, drawing the attention of SLI co-founder Chris Nowinski, who worked with families to deliver three more cases that Dr. Omalu and others diagnosed with CTE, including SLI’s first case, former WWE wrestler Chris Benoit.


What happened?

In my several lengthy conversations with Dr. Omalu, he has taken credit for the term CTE; on one occasion, Omalu even gently reminded me that he had been the sole, and not merely a major contributory, coiner of it. To the extent that I ran with Omalu’s assertion, bad on me. If I’ve somehow misinterpreted what Omalu has been telling me (but I don’t think I have), then double-bad on me. (Omalu declined comment in an email this morning.)

Now that that piece is out of the way – again, apologies to Cantu, Chris Nowinski’s SLI, and the Center for the Study of CTE for the implication that they were deflecting due credit to Omalu by fudging history – what does all this mean for the story of the national head injury crisis in sports?

The answer is that it is, if anything, even less flattering to the powers-that-be.

Bennet Omalu didn’t discover CTE or even attach the most widely recognized handle to it. He was just the first to identify CTE in football players.

CTE was wending its way through the medical literature throughout the 1970s in association not just with boxers, but with battered women and circus performers as well. Meanwhile, as concussions took a skyrocketing toll on football players over the next 30 years, no one made the connection.

Remember Travis Williams, “the Road Runner,” a speedy running back who set kickoff return records as a rookie for the 1967 Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers? He was finished way too early, battled depression, wound up penniless in a homeless shelter in Richmond, California, and died at 45. Of course, we can’t know if Williams had CTE, but his story is just one of dozens or scores or hundreds of similar ones prior to that day in 2002 when Omalu happened upon Mike Webster’s brain.

All of which leads to another broad observation – about the folly of “peer-reviewed scientific literature.” This phrase, preferably uttered in hushed tones and on bended knee, is the talisman of the same priesthood that has failed a sports-mad nation in disseminating needed public health information. Peer review, in my opinion, is a pastiche of standards, honored as much in the breach as in the observance when convenient, and it comes embedded with its own set of social, professional, and commercial biases. More on this in tomorrow’s post.

Irv Muchnick

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

‘Duerson’s CTE Finding Must Change NFL Concussion Debate From Consciousness-Raising to Accountability’ (full text from Beyond Chron)

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[originally published May 3 at http://www.beyondchron.org/articles/Duerson_s_CTE_Finding_Must_Change_NFL_Concussion_Debate_From_Consciousness_Raising_to_Accountability_9147.html]

by Irvin Muchnick

Dave Duerson had CTE – chronic traumatic encephalopathy. The finding on the brain of the 50-year-old retired National Football League star, who committed shttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifuicide in February, was announced at a Monday news conference conducted by doctors at Boston University’s Center for the Study of CTE, Chris Nowinski’s Sports Legacy Institute, and Duerson’s ex-wife and four children.

The Boston group deserves the victory lap it is taking for raising consciousness about concussions in contact sports. Everyone should view Nowinski’s video on the subject, “Game Changers,” at http://youtube.com/watch?v=yeSsYOgGJW4.

At the same time, there is a danger that the NFL’s activism in finding a cure for CTE and promoting sports safety reforms is way too little and way too late. That is why I asked the following question at yesterday’s event:

Mr. Duerson served as a trustee on the NFL Player Care committee that reviews disability claims of retired players. A league spokesman told me that a total of 11 claims to the Mackey 88 Plan for dementia-related acute-care expenses have been rejected. There is some additional number of line-of-duty and disability benefits that have been rejected, and many of those also involve brain injuries – a subject that certainly weighed heavily on Mr. Duerson. In light of this new information confirming that he was himself of diminished mental capacity when he participated in these NFL Player Care deliberations, do you agree that there is a moral, if not also a legal, obligation to reopen the files of these rejected claims?

Robert Stern, co-director of the center, replied that his organization was not in the business of telling the NFL how to distribute disability benefits. He also said that the Duerson CTE finding could not be extrapolated to determine just when and how, or even whether, this player and fallen business tycoon came to incur “diminished mental capacity.” (The original version of this post incorrectly identified Chris Nowinski as the person who responded to my question.)

Though fair enough as far as the response went, this reticence to use the Duerson cautionary tale for more aggressive generic comment on the political landscape ahead may point to the limitations of the Sports Legacy Institute’s new million-dollar partnership with the NFL. In a related vein, I believe the question is not whether youth football coaches should be cutting back on contact in practices; it is whether youth football should exist at all.

Further unfortunate fallout from the public progress on concussion reform is the schism between the Boston group and the West Virginia Brain Injury Research Institute headed by Drs. Julian Bailes and Bennet Omalu. The latter, now chief medical examiner of San Joaquin County, California, is the researcher who took the NFL head-on while more established voices were still equivocating – often in journal articles authored by doctors with league connections and other commercial conflicts of interest.

A hint of the Boston-West Virginia turf war was evident yesterday after Boston University’s Dr. Robert Cantu correctly linked CTE to the phenomenon of “punch drunk syndrome” in boxers, which was first isolated in 1928. Cantu went on to suggest, incorrectly, that CTE became widely recognized in the sixties and seventies. In fact, the pathology was neither named nor defined before Omalu came along in 2002. If there was widespread awareness of the scale of concussion syndrome in the immediate aftermath of football players such as Al Toon getting blasted into early retirement in the 1990s, then the NFL made sure it was a well-kept secret.

In any case, the point isn’t who gets credit for the discovery of CTE so much as who will pay the bill for the current generation of sports-generated broken lives. This exercise runs deeper than the NFL’s bottom line. Half-baked prospective solutions driven by an image-conscious, money-hungry corporation will not signifihttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifcantly arrest the CTE pandemic. And as writer Matt Chaney has noted, it is non-professionals and their families – along with the nation as a whole – who bear the brunt of the NFL lobby’s current campaign to shift responsibility to state legislatures mandating new practices by cash-strapped school and other amateur athletic programs.

A better idea: Make Commissioner Roger Goodell and his 32 owners cough up some realistic restitution for the brain-injury mill from which they profit so obscenely. A mere $20 million in research grants and $7 million in aid to retired players with dementia won’t cut it. That was the background of my question at the Duerson press conference. I’ll take my answer off the air.

Irvin Muchnick (blog http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com; Twitter “@irvmuch”) is author of CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death.

Duerson Legacy Belongs in a Labor Department Audit, Not in Jock Hagiography

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Alan Schwarz of The New York Times has taken the Dave Duerson story exactly where it needs to go: toward no-holds-barred examination of the National Football League disability benefits system, which Duerson himself, with cruel irony, had helped administer and defend.

See “Duerson’s case highlights the limits of the N.F.L.’s disability plan,” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/05/sports/football/05duerson.html. The money passage:

Another question beginning to circle among retired players whose claims were denied during Duerson’s tenure is whether they can refile given his admitted impairment. Board votes are not disclosed to applicants or to the public.

John Hogan, a lawyer for dozens of players in disability matters, said that he might request an audit by the United States Department of Labor to see how Duerson voted on claims.

“He had to exercise a high degree of care, skill, prudence and diligence — the C.T.E. findings, coupled with his suicide, certainly raise the question of whether he was capable of properly fulfilling those duties as is required in such an important undertaking,” Hogan said. “It therefore calls into question the possibility that some or all of the decisions he made when passing on disahttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifbility claims are suspect, and perhaps invalid.”

I welcome attorney Hogan’s assumption of a more aggressive stance than he articulated to me in the immediate aftermath of Duerson’s February suicide. Back then, while not hesitating to brand the entire NFL disability apparatus illegitimate, with or without the Duerson factor, Hogan had added that probing Duerson’s specific cases on the compensation board would be a tough road to hoe because of confidentiality laws and the possibility that he had actually cast his own votes in favor of retired players whose claims were rejected. (See “ALREADY LOCKED OUT: The NFL and NFLPA’s Rejected Disability Claims,” March 15, http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/introducing-already-locked-out-the-nfl-and-nflpa%E2%80%99s-rejected-disability-claims/.)

A lawyer for NFL Player Care, Douglas Ell, reinforces this point to The Times, saying “he knew of no case where ‘if Dave’s vote were disregarded, the outcome would have been different.’”

I think the league’s position is spectacularly wrong. The disability committee is not tainted because of Duerson’s individual votes, but because of his overall participation. As one of the three NFL Players Association appointees, Duerson carried an expectation to deliberate and advocate on behalf of a constituency in need. To use a very loose analogy, if a lawyer is found to have provided inadequate representation to an accused criminal, the process is understood to be flawed and a rehearing required. War-gaming the final verdicts of the disability panel to determine whether they would have turned out the same anyway does not remove their procedural cloud.

At Monday’s press conference in Boston, officials at the Center for the Study of Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy (a partnership of Boston University and the Sports Legacy Institute, recently infused with a $1 million NFL grant) declined to go there. See my coverage at Beyond Chron, the full text of which will be posted shortly here.

But even if the best-known faces of concussion reform are getting unhelpfully cautious in their rhetoric, the sports commentariat and the federal government have the means to take the Duerson narrative all the way home.

Irv Muchnick

‘Duerson CTE Finding Must Change NFL Concussion Debate From Consciousness-Raising to Accountability’ ... today at Beyond Chron

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Dave Duerson had CTE – chronic traumatic encephalopathy. The finding on the brain of the 50-year-old retired National Football League star, who committed suicide in February, was announced at a Monday news conference conducted by doctors at Boston University’s Center for the Study of CTE, Chris Nowinski’s Sports Legacy Institute, and Duerson’s ex-wife anhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifd four children.

The Boston group deserves the victory lap it is taking for raising consciousness about concussions in contact sports. Everyone should view Nowinski’s video on the subject, “Game Changers,” at http://youtube.com/watch?v=yeSsYOgGJW4.

At the same time, there is a danger that the NFL’s belated activism in finding a cure for CTE and promoting sports safety reforms is way too little and way too late. That is why I asked the following question at yesterday’s event:

CONTINUED TODAY AT BEYOND CHRON, THE SAN FRANCISCO ONLINE NEWSPAPER: http://www.beyondchron.org/articles/Duerson_s_CTE_Finding_Must_Change_NFL_Concussion_Debate_From_Consciousn

Dave Duerson’s CTE and the Cause of Living Brain-Injured NFL Alumni

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At a just-concluded press conference in Boston attended by Dave Duerson’s ex-wife and their four children, doctors affiliated with Boston University and Chris Nowinski’s Sports Legacy Institute announced that the postmortem study of the brain of Duerson, who committed suicide in February, confirms that he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy. He is one of dozens of recently deceased athletes, at least 13 of whom were National Football League players, shown to have had CTE.

I asked the following question at the press conference:

Mr. Duerson served as a trustee on the NFL Player Care committee that reviews disability claims of retired players. A league spokesman told me that a total of 11 claims to the Mackey 88 Plan for dementia-related acute-care expenses have been rejected. There is some additional number of line-of-duty and disability benefits that have been rejected, and many of those also involve brain injuries – a subject that certainly weighed heavily on Mr. Duerson. In light of this new information confirming that he was himself of diminished mental capacity when he participated in these NFL Player Care deliberations, http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifdo you agree that there is a moral, if not also a legal, obligation to reopen the files of these rejected claims?

For the panel’s answer to this question and my analysis, see my article Tuesday at Beyond Chron, the San Francisco online newspaper.

For background, see this blog’s series on Duerson, linked in five parts at “Dave Duerson NFL Suicide Story You’ll Read Nowhere Else,” http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2011/02/26/dave-duerson-nfl-suicide-story-youll-read-nowhere-else-in-five-parts/.

Irv Muchnick

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Senator Udall No-Comments Query on Investigation of Rigging of Concussion Tests

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This morning I faxed the following to Senator Tom Udall’s press secretary, Amber McDowell. There has been no response.

Please provide a statement from Senator Udall on whether federal investigations of football helmet safety should be expanded to include investigations of sports concussion testing.

This query is prompted by reports over the past week — on my blog, at FoxSports.com, and elsewhere — that some National Football League players are known to have cheated the “ImPACT” concussion test at both ends: by deliberately doing poorly on baseline testing and by taking Ritalin to artificially elevate alertness post-concussion.

The helmet and concussion-testing questions are linked because Dr. Joseph Maroon both participated in the NFL-funded study used in hype by the Riddell helmet company, and developed and co-owns the ImPACT software, which is marketed to many sports leagues, including youth programs.

Irv Muchnick

‘Blumenthal backs “misclassification” bill but ducks questions about WWE’ (Manchester Journal Inquirer)

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Reprinted in full with permission.

Blumenthal backs ‘misclassification’ bill but ducks questions about WWE

by Don Michak

Manchester Journal Inquirer

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, flanked Monday by state labor Commissioner Glenn Marshall and a bevy of construction industry and labor representatives, trumpeted his co-sponsorship of a bill that would protect workers from being “misclassified” as independent contractors or part-timers by their employers.

But the former state attorney general — who as a Democratic candidate last year questioned whether his Republican opponent, Linda McMahon, had done exactly that as the former chief executive officer of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. — ducked when asked to comment on a misclassification audit of WWE reportedly initiated by the state Labor Department.

“This federal law is about industrywide and countrywide violations of basic fairness in misclassification, which is cheating, plain and simple,” Blumenthal responded. “It’s not about any one business or any one industry. It’s about construction, but it’s also about a variety of other areas where workers, honest businesses, taxpayers, and ordinary citizens are all cheated as a result of this practice.

“We’re going to fight for this proposal, regardless of allegations against any one business,” he added.

Meanwhile, Marshall, the former carpenters union official named three months ago by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to head the Labor Department, also dodged when asked about the reported WWE probe.

“At this time I’m not in a position to divulge anything on that,” he said. “If there is an investigation, we can’t report on it. There are protections in place within the department — some of it’s federal and some of it’s state law — where we can’t divulge things when investigations are ongoing.”

Asked why, if he were bent on increasing public awareness of “misclassification,” he would keep secret the name of any company engaged in the practice, Marshall responded: “This is a broader venue that we’re talking about here and I’d rather not get specific about if there is an investigation ongoing.”

The officials, speaking at the Wethersfield office of the Connecticut Construction Industries Association, characterized misclassification as a means for unscrupulous employers to cut costs and avoid contributions for unemployment and workers compensation.

They said such workers don’t qualify for minimum wage and overtime compensation and aren’t protected by anti-discrimination and health and safety laws. Businesses that properly classify their employees are put at a competitive disadvantage, they said.

The Labor Department was reported to have begun a misclassification audit of WWE in September, although one department source has since said it had become focused on whether the company underpaid unemployment insurance taxes.

McMahon, who before launching her Senate bid had headed the company that classifies its wrestlers and other employees as independent contractors, initially said she was unaware of any audit.

A WWE spokesman, meanwhile, denied any corporate wrongdoing and told the Stamford Advocate that the state had “curiously” begun auditing the company as McMahon made her first run for public office.

The McMahon campaign subsequently suggested Blumenthal was behind the probe, and he responded that while he had worked with a task force looking for ways to reduce the practice, he was not involved in the Labor Department investigation.

Blumenthal on Monday again emphasized his work on behalf of a state law signed into law last spring that increased the fine from $300 per incident to $300 a day per violation for employers who misclassify employees as independent contractors.

“That law has been strengthened as a result of the report that was done,” he said. “I was co-chair of the committee and I’ve been working on this problem for years.”

The freshman senator said the proposed Payroll Fraud Prevention Act drafted by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, would “take Connecticut’s law as a model” and establish misclassification as separate federal violation.

He said it also would set a $1,100 fine for each violation and a $5,000 fine for each repeated violation, require employers to keep records and notify workers exactly how they are classified, and protect workers who report violations.

Muchnick Interviewed About WWE on Connecticut Radio Friday

[posted 4/25/11 to http:http://www.blhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifogger.com/img/blank.gif//wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com]

Irvin Muchnick, author of CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death, will be interviewed by host Larry Rifkin on “Talk of the Town” on WATR Radio, 1320 AM, in Waterbury, Connecticut, on Friday, April 29, at 11:30 a.m. Eastern time (8:30 a.m. Pacific).

The live interview, scheduled for 30 minutes, also will stream at http://watr.com.

Anticipated topics include Linda McMahon’s widely assumed 2012 campaign for a Connecticut U.S. Senate seat, the turmoil at World Wrestling Entertainment (including the resignation of long-time board member Lowell Weicker), http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifahttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.ghttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gififnd the state Labor Department audit of WWE for independent contractor misclassification and the parallel federal legislation proposed by Senator Richard Blumenthal.
Web: http://muchnick.net

Blog: http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com

Twitter: http://twitter.com/irvmuch

YouTube: http://youtube.com/WrestlingBabylon

Media inquiries: media@muchnick.net


Ex-NFL Player Matt Bowen: I Sandbagged My Concussion Test

[posted 4/25/11 to http:http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif//wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com]

Continuing last week’s line of reporting from this blog and from FoxSports.com’s Alex Marvez:

“Why players ‘cheat’ the concussion test”

by Matt Bowen

National Football Post


WWE Lawyer McDevitt: Company Meets ‘Most of’ Independent Contractor Requirements

[posted 4/25/11 to http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com]

Senator Richard Blumenthal will hold a press conference today at the Connecticut Construction Industries Association in Wethersfield to promote federal legislation he is co-sponsoring to curb abuse by employers of the independent contrachttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.giftor classification. The state Labor Department has an ongoing investigation of alleged misclassification practices by WWE, whose co-founder and former chief executive, Linda McMahon, was defeated by Blumenthal in last year’s election.

In an article in the February issue of American Lawyer magazine, WWE attorney Jerry McDevitt was quoted as saying the company “covers medical bills for those hurt in the ring and fulfills ‘most of’ the tests used to define independent contractors.”

See http://muchnick.net/americanlawyer.pdf.

Irv Muchnick

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Dr. Maroon’s ImPACT Testing Part of ‘Hocus Pocus Concussion Remedy’: Author-Blogger Matt Chaney

[posted 4/23/11 to http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com]

Matt Chaney’s piece today, “Critics, Evidence Debunk ‘Concussion Testing’ in Football,” suggests that I have been far too kind in my criticisms of the ImPACT system developed by National Football League and World Wrestling Entertainment doctor Joseph Maroon.

The article is at http://blog.4wallspublishing.com/2011/04/23/critics-evidence-debunk-concussion-testing-in-football.aspx. Some highlights:

* A peer-reviewed article in Current Sports Medicine Reports by Loyola University’s Dr. Christopher Randolph details ImPACT’s “glaring faults,” with unacceptable rates of false-positives and false-negatives.

* Chaney: “An overwhelming majority of journalists, politicians, educators and football experts ignore the accumulating evidence rebuking concussion testing as invalid and unreliable, choosing instead to endorse the quick-fix notion and push it for mandate by law.”

* Generally speaking, the neuropsych tests on the market “are unsuitable for clinical work with concussions,” according to Dr. Lester Mayers of Pace University.

* Dr. Bennet Omalu, who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy in athletes in contact sports, says, “ImPACT testing is not a diagnosis tool…. Using [computerized] testing in the acute phase of injury can actually make the symptoms worse.”

Chaney also takes a shot at Chris Nowinski’s Sports Legacy Institute and Boston University’s Dr. Robert Cantu; the blogger calls them “current purveyors” of the theory that modifying the behavior and tackling techniques of football players can fundamentally alter the public health risks of football.

Irv Muchnick

AP Story on Blumenthal Independent Contractor Initiative Cites WWE

[posted 4/23/11 to http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com]

“Worker misclassification came up during Blumenthal’s 2010 Senate campaign when it was revealed World Wrestling Entertainment was being investigated by the state for possible violations. Linda McMahon, the Republican candidate, is the former CEO of WWE. McMahon at the time questioned whether the audit was politically motivated.”

Full report from the Associated Press is headlined “Blumenthal to discuss worker misclassification” at the Stamford Advocate: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Blumenthal-to-discuss-worker-misclassification-1349558.php#ixzz1KMZeXjhs

Recommended Reading: Cageside Seats on the WWE-Lowell Weicker Split

[posted 4/23/11 to http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com]

“Did the McMahons force out long time board member Lowell Weicker Jr.?”

by Keith Harris


More on Senator Blumenthal’s ‘Payroll Fraud Prevention Act’

[posted 4/22/11 to http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com]

The blog “Independent Contractor Compliance” has details on S. 770, the Payroll Fraud Prevention Act, co-sponsored by Connecticut’s Senator Richard Blumenthal and his Democratic colleagues Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Tom Harkin of Iowa:


Senator Blumenthal to Discuss Independent Contractor Misclassification

[posted 4/22/11 to http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com]


(Hartford, CT) – On Monday, April 25, 2011, Senator Richard Blumenthal will join representatives of the construction industry and labor to discuss the serious impacts of the misclassification of employees by companies. Misclassification of workers occurs when companies designate employees as “contractors” or “part-time” employees in order to avoid providing proper wages, taxes, and benefits. This not only adversely affects targeted employees but also creates unfair competition for those contractors that abide by the law. Misclassification also adversely affects the budgets of state and local governments.

Blumenthal will address legislation he’s supporting in the Senate to curb the practice and create a level playing field for workers and businesses.

Below is a list of scheduled stops for Monday, April 25, 2011.

MONDAY, APRIL 25, 2011


1:00 PM

Misclassification Press Conference

CT Construction Industries Association

912 Silas Deane Highway
Wethersfield, Connecticut


Contact: Lily Adams, (860) 729-4812


What Chris Benoit Wrote After the Funeral of Ray ‘Big Boss Man’ Traylor

[posted 4/22/11 to http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com]

The following is a transcript of the entry in Chris Benoit’s journal on September 25, 2004. A copy of the document was given to me by Chris’s father, Michael Benoit. According to Mike, the writings left behind by Chris suggest that Ray “Big Boss Man” Traylor was one of his two best friends in wrestling (the other being Eddie Guerrero, who would die a year later).

22nd of September 2004 Ray Trailor passed away from a heart attack. I dont remember the first time I met Ray, but that seems to be with alot of my life. I dont know if its because Ive lost a lot of memories because of bumbing, or if I just dont like looking in the rear view mirrors too much. This one thing I hate about myself are these walls I put up around myself sometimes when I feel hurt and everything seems to be oblivious.

I loved Ray Trailor. he’s the only person that I know that Ive never seen in a bad mood, or not smile, or not make me smile, EVER. He always made time for me, whether to talk or to lend a helping hand. Ray Trailor was a real person. No guess work. I like to say Ray Trailor was a man’s man. He always used to say that about me, to me. I would spend days with him, and every half hour or so, though it seemed like every 5 minutes he would say “Chris Benoit, Have I told you I loved you yet.” And I used to laugh and he would laugh, but by the end of the day, whenever we were done doing whatever we were doing we would hug I and I would tell him I loved him. I used to laugh when I would hear that from him all day. I used to laugh thinking about it. Now I dont. But I know why he did it, and what he meant. Ray Trailor loved life and everything it offered.

It is Sept 25th today. I’m sitting on a plane on my way to Sioux City to wrestle. I just left Picket Mills Baptist Church where the service for Ray Trailor was held. I spent time with his wife Angie and two young daughter Lacey and Megan. I listened to some of his friends get up and tell stories that made me laugh while I was crying. The most emotional part was listening to his daughter Lacey talk. I wanted to take all her pain and sadness away. I pray that God gives them the strength and faith they need to get through this, Angie, Lacey, Megan.

As Nancy and I left the church and watched them put Ray’s coffin into the hearse. We both waved goodbye one last time and I thanked him in my heart and thanked God for putting him in my life and said I love you Ray.

Once Again and For the Record: TNA Is Worse Than WWE

[posted 4/21/11 to http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com]

TNA is the No. 2 wrestling promotion. I don’t dwell on it because unlike World Wrestling Entertainment — or, excuse me, The New WWE — few people have even heard of TNA unless they’rehttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif wrestling fans.

But I am reminded by fans, time and again, that TNA’s occupational health and safety standards are worse, far worse, than WWE’s. The website Cageside Seats is way ahead of everyone else in documenting this. The latest at Cageside, by writer S. Bruce, must be read to be believed:

“The Sad Story of Shannon ‘Daffney’ Spruill in TNA,” http://www.cagesideseats.com/2011/4/21/2125160/the-sad-story-of-shannon-daffney-spruill.

It’s all there: concussions ... a litany of other grotesque and avoidable injuries imposed by the booking and demands of management ... reneging on coverage of talent hospital bills ... culminating in legal action by this “Knockout” against this promotion. (At TNA, women wrestlers are in every way, including medically, treated worse than male wrestlers.)

And that is one more important set of exhibits of why pro wrestling needs to be reformed. Such reform will have to come down from the top: a single company, WWE, the only mainstream player on the scene, generates well over 90 percent of the industry’s revenue. There is hope in WWE’s home state, Connecticut, that government will take action to end its independent contractor classification for its wrestlers, which is a scam. Thid would be a huge step toward making all wrestling promoters accountable for the gratuitous damage they inflict on their workers.

Irv Muchnick