For years, Dr. Elliot Pellman—a rheumatologist—discredited various independent studies concerning the severity of concussions. During that time, the league and then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue took a soft position on concussions as only minor injuries. As a direct result of this approach, players were sent back on the field with concussions, leading to many further damage and the glut of lawsuits the league now faces on the subject. Outside The Lines now reveals that Dr. Pellman also served as personal physician for Paul Tagliabue for almost 10 years.
Tagliabue released statement making clear that Pellman only became his doctor after he had been named head of the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee. He was also team doctor for the New York Jets, simultaneously shaping and implementing the NFL's concussion policy. So, there was not necessarily a quid pro quo situation that led to his appointment—"No personal medical care had anything to do with Dr. Pellman's appointment..."—but there is still an unseemliness to it all.
"This is something that should scare the hell out of the NFL as part of the concussion litigation," Warren Zola, a sports law expert and assistant dean at Boston College, said when told of Pellman's doctor-patient relationship with Tagliabue.
As a veteran team doctor with experience treating concussions, Pellman might have been qualified to lead the committee, but his relationship with Tagliabue could undermine his credibility, Zola said.
"As a matter of law, I'm not sure it would be all that damning," Zola said. "But if the NFL were to find themselves in front of a jury, the jury would likely interpret this as evidence of negligence. It's another rationale for the NFL to try to settle."
In 2003 Pellman was lead author for nine of 16 studies that minimized the significance of concussions in the NFL, an opinion Tagliabue had previously expressed himself. Three years later Tagliabue stepped down as commissioner. Pellman was not far behind him, though he retained an advisory role as "NFL Medical Director," a position Greg Aiello described as administrative. The NFL has obviously reversed its position in recent years in large part due to the lawsuits filed on behalf of players injured as a result of Pellman's policies.
You can read the entire report here, it is worth it.
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