The National Football League is demanding The New York Times retract last week’s story that alleged the league’s concussion research was flawed and compared the league’s “handling of its health crisis to that of the tobacco industry, which was notorious for using questionable science to play down the dangers of cigarettes.”
Politico reported on Tuesday it had obtained a letter sent to the Times on Monday that called the story “false and defamatory” and issued a “demand that the story immediately be retracted.”
An ominous warning for reporters was also included in the letter, which requested “the Times’s reporters and editors who worked on this story preserve their notes, correspondence, emails, recordings and work papers and all other electronic and hard copy documents generated or received in connection with their work.”
In its story on March 24, the Times alluded to confidential documents citing more than 100 diagnosed concussions were not included in the studies that took place between 1996 through 2001. Concussions suffered by star quarterbacks Troy Aikman and Steve Young were among those omitted and not documented by NFL researchers.
The Times is standing its ground. Sports editor Jason Stallman told Politico there is “no reason to retract anything.”
“Our reporting showed that more than 100 such concussions – including some sustained by star players – were not included in the [NFL’s] data set, resulting in inaccurate findings,” Stallman said in a statement. He also noted that a co-owner of the New York Giants has direct ties to the tobacco industry and that “the N.F.L. and the tobacco industry shared lobbyists, lawyers and consultants.”
Politico asked league spokesman Joe Lockhart if the NFL will sue if the Times does not print a retraction.
“We won’t prejudge the reaction of The New York Times,” Lockhart said. “We make a strong argument for a retraction, one we expect them to take seriously.”