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Patrick Hruby

Still the Wrong Man for the Job

Just how entangled are the NFL and Elliot Pellman?

Sports on Earth

I’ve asked this before and I’ll ask it again: Why has Elliot Pellman been involved in any way with the National Football League’s supposedly reformed brain health and safety efforts?

Moreover, is the league obscuring the nature and extent of Pellman’s involvement?

A Long Island-based physician and former team doctor for the New York Jets, Pellman served as chairman of the NFL’s controversial, now-defunct Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee from 1994 to 2007, during which time the group:

* Published scientifically-dubious papers co-authored by Pellman declaring that concussions in professional football “are not serious injuries” and that “many [concussed] players can be safely allowed to return to play on the day of injury” — papers that appear to have informed and supported the league’s lax and/or nonexistent brain trauma prevention and treatment policies.

* Repeatedly downplayed and dismissed the long-term cognitive damage associated with repeated football-induced blows to the head despite ample evidence and independent research indicating otherwise.

* Drew scorn from Congress and outside scientists alike, inviting comparisons to tobacco industry-funded pseudo-science while producing discredited work that currently is at the heart of the more than 4,000 lawsuits alleging negligence and fraud filed by former players against the league.

* Was ultimately disbanded by the NFL after Pellman stepped down and later was replaced by a new Head, Neck and Spine Committee whose co-chairs, neurology experts Hunt Batjer and Rich Ellebogen, promptly declared they would not use any of the committee’s previous work because they didn’t want “their professional reputations damaged” while expressing a desire to make a ”complete severance from all prior relationships from that committee.”

Funny thing about that complete severance: In Pellman’s case, it appears to be neither complete nor an actual, you know, severance. Last month, I published a critical article noting that Pellman was still working as medical advisor to the NFL; as such, I sharply questioned the league’s judgement, given Pellman’s downright disastrous concussion committee stewardship. Oh, and I wasn’t the only person with concerns. In response to an inquiry about Pellman’s exact role with the NFL, league spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed that Pellman is a medical advisor to the league office, but does not establish policy or assist in the administration of the Head, Neck and Spine Committee. (Italics added).

Thing is, I’m not so sure that’s the case.

On Monday, Sports on Earth obtained an email from Ellenbogen to the members of the reconstituted Head, Neck and Spine Committee. Dated December 7, 2011, the message invites committee members to attend an annual meeting at the NFL’s New York City offices in February 2012. It also states that “the NFL sponsors” for the meeting “will be Dr. Pellman, NFL Medical Director and Mr. Jeff Pash, Executive Vice President, NFL.”

Two thoughts:

(1) NFL Medical Director sounds more involved – and more authoritative – than medical advisor.

(2) “Sponsoring” a meeting of the league’s current brain trauma committee does not sound like something a person who is “completely severed” and does not “assist in the administration” of said committee does … or ought to be doing.

Moreover, Pellman is included among the recipients of the invitation email – all of whom besides Pash appear to be members of the new committee – and also has a league email address. Curiouser and curiouser.

In fairness to the NFL, Ellenbogen’s email does not indicate anything sinister. Nor does it indicate that Aiello was being dishonest. Semantics can be tricky, particularly when public relations is involved. However, Pellman’s inclusion in the invitation, official league title and meeting sponsor status fit a pattern of information that suggests his opaque NFL role still involves player brain health and safety. As I previously wrote:

… three years ago, Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Stewart Bradley and quarterback Kevin Kolb both were concussed during the same game and allowed to continue playing before being pulled off the field, a dangerous practice now prohibited by NFL guidelines. During a subsequent league inquiry, Eagles trainers spoke to Pellman. In 2011 Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy was concussed on a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit from Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison. After Browns trainers failed to administer a standard sideline diagnostic test, McCoy reentered the game. To determine how that happened, Browns team president Mike Holmgren later met with medical representatives from the players’ union and the league. Including Pellman. Earlier that season, Eagles quarterback Michael Vick suffered a concussion and had to be examined by a neurologist before being cleared to play. Who reportedly helped choose the neurologist? Pellman.
On the same day last January that researchers reported that the brain of former NFL linebacker and suicide victim Junior Seau tested positive for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — a neurodegenerative disease associated with repetitive head trauma — former NFL quarterback Bernie Kosar held an informal press conference in a Cleveland luxury hotel touting the work of Florida-based anesthesiologist Marvin “Rick” Sponaugle, whose controversial treatment of intravenous fluids and nutritional supplements Kosar credits with helping relieve his brain trauma-related ailments. Despite a lack of scientific evidence supporting Kosar’s claims, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed that the retired quarterback had spoken about his treatment with Goodell; moreover, the league reportedly put Sponaugle in touch with — you guessed it — Pellman …

Of course, Pellman’s ongoing presence is par for the league’s course. As I also wrote in my previous article:

… [Previous] Pellman committee member Rick Burkholder, a former Eagles athletic trainer, is now the head trainer of the Kansas City Chiefs. Members Andrew Tucker and Doug Robertson remain team physicians for the Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts, respectively. Members Mark Lovell and Joseph Maroon — a neuropsychologist and a neurosurgeon — both reportedly remained NFL advisers as of last year. New York Giants athletic trainer Ronnie Barnes, Colts neurosurgeon Henry Feuer and former Chiefs physician Joe Waeckerle all served under Pellman and remain closely involved with the league’s brain health and safety policy, because all three are members of the reconstituted committee …

I’ve said this before and I’ve said this again: Whatever the extent of Pellman’s involvement, it’s too much. If I were an NFL player, I wouldn’t want him anywhere near my brain. I would’t want him anywhere near the people making policy decisions about the health and well-being of my brain. I wouldn’t want him hanging around the league office, either, any more than I’d want Mike “heckuva job” Brown hanging around the offices of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. I’d want severance, and I’d want it complete. Why doesn’t a league that commissioner Roger Goodell claims is “relentlessly” focused on health and safety feel the same way?

Read the original article at Sports on Earth