Concussions in sports, particularly football, have become a hot topic recently due to the increasing media attention surrounding medical studies on the long term neurological effects of former NFL players. Last week ESPN, one of the largest sports media conglomerates, had an entire week-long web series regarding the medical and legal ramifications of concussions in the NFL. The articles examined the various perspectives in the debate, along with the difficulty of finding any medical or legal consensus. The articles evince the difficultly of the issue by presenting the various sentiments and incentives of groups and individuals involved.
A rash of severe neurological disorders among former players, including suicides, have caused scientists to try and discover correlations between repeated trauma to the brain and subsequent debilitating ailments during retirement. One of the articles focused on neuropathologist, Ann Mckee, who is studying the brains of former football players in order to help players in a sport she says she loves. However, as we discussed in class, there is always discordance and an attempt to marginalize by those with differing opinions in the scientific community. Doctor Mckee’s details how her science was pronounced inaccurate and without merit by the NFL’s science representatives. The NFL’s representative, who is the chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Washington School of Medicine, stated that Mckee’s work needed to be put in more peer reviewed journals and that her studies are advocacy rather than science. It appears that this statement by the NFL’s representative is preemptively dismissing Dr. Mckee’s scientific conclusions in anticipation of impending litigation.
The manner in which Dr. Mckee’s work is being received by the general public and staunch supporters of the game of football portend the obstacles that await during trial testimony regarding football concussions. She had to testify in front of a congressional panel where she encountered acrimony from members of congress who claimed she was talking about ‘the end of football as we know it.’ In a jury trial it is very likely that scientific studies similar to Dr. Mckee’s testimony will be heard by jurors that are avid football fans. How difficult will it be for those jurors to objectively evaluate the scientific testimony when they hold onto deep cultural and personal affinity for the sport of football?
As we discussed in class, the neurological studies are so varied and complex that I believe jurors will most likely believe the science that coincides with their preexisting paradigms regarding football and its deleterious effects on the brain. Since the study of concussions is still burgeoning it is also going to be easier for the NFL’s scientific experts to discredit the validity of the studies as well as the motives of opposing scientists. I think this is a very interesting issue because you have a confluence of law and science with the backdrop of perhaps the most popular current American institution. It will be very interesting to observe the studies and posturing of competing experts that are sure to testify if the former NFL player’s suit against the NFL goes to trial.