Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue sat down for an interview with the Talk Of Fame Network, and he wants everyone to know that he’s really sorry about that whole actively ignoring and downplaying the effects of concussions in the NFL thing—or at least about speaking intemperately.
Tagliabue specifically apologized for his comments at a 1994 panel discussion, in which he characterized concussions as “one of those pack-journalism issues” while assuring everyone that the number of players suffering concussions in the NFL was relatively small. Here’s what Tagliabue has to say about those comments now:
I do regret those remarks. Looking back, it was not sensible language to use to express my thoughts at the time. My language was intemperate, and it led to serious misunderstanding. I overreacted on issues which we were already working on. But that doesn’t excuse the overreaction and intemperate language.
Tagliabue also admitted that the NFL’s methods for collecting information on concussions were deeply flawed at the time. He noted that before speaking at the 1994 panel he had been given five seasons worth of concussion data that was “relatively flat in terms of concussions.” He added, “I think the consistency there was more about the inadequacy of our reporting system than what was going on on the playing field.”
Note the odd passivity here. That inadequacy, after all, wasn’t something that simply happened; it was the result of Tagliabue’s choice to appoint Elliot Pellman, a quack rheumatologist with no expertise in head trauma who was also Tagliabue’s personal doctor, as the head of the league’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee. It was Pellman’s studies, which were sloppily conducted and plagued by missing data, that the league relied on when trying to downplay the severity of the NFL’s concussion crisis. Pellman’s group authored 16 papers that belittled concussions with conclusions such as “players who are concussed and return to the same game have fewer initial signs and symptoms than those removed from play.”
During his interview with the Talk Of Fame Network, Tagliabue was asked about his indefensible decision to place Pellman in such a position of power, and that’s when he went a long, rambling answer that didn’t offer much in the way of contrition. Here’s part of it:
I got a call from Leon Hess, owner of the Jets, who told me that [Dr. Pellman] was a person who I should get involved in these issues of head neck and spine injuries, because he was a hard worker, he was highly intelligent, he was a good organizer, and he could work effectively with coaches and players, and he could stand up for the medical point of view and not be cowed. So I put him in charge, knowing what his specialties were.
I think that the chairman of a committee needs to be able to work with people, he needs to be able to recruit people, he needs to identify the special knowledge... that’s being addressed. It does not necessarily have to be a specialist in that particular area if he has other qualities and other skills that are supportive of what you’re trying to accomplish. The fact that he became my personal physician later had not a single thing to do with any of the decisions about Dr. Pellman or anyone else.
That doesn’t cut it. Apologizing for the remarks he made at the 1994 panel is a good start, but if there’s anything Tagliabue should be truly sorry for, it’s giving Elliot Pellman the power to do anything more than hand out band-aids.