Last year, the NFL and USA Football – youth football’s governing body – made big claims about their efforts to reduce brain injuries in childhood football leagues. The groups touted their youth initiative called Heads Up Football for decreasing the number of concussions and bodily injuries by significant margins.
The only problem is their claims weren’t true.
The New York Times accused the NFL and USA Football of misleading the public and misrepresenting preliminary data to diminish the number of youth injuries. The groups used preliminary numbers from a study to claim the program reduced injuries by 76% and concussions by approximately 30%.
When the study was published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicines, the findings showed that wasn’t the case at all. In fact, the results showed the initiative had little to no effect whatsoever on the number of concussions. Its impact on general injuries was also minimal, at best.
The NFL and USA Football didn’t wait to see the final data before proclaiming they were making a huge impact and promoting their successes on social media and their own websites. Both leagues say they were unaware they were using inaccurate information until after The Times began conducting its investigation recently.
“U.S.A. Football erred in not conducting a more thorough review with Datalys to ensure that our data was up to date,” Scott Hallenbeck, the executive director of U.S.A. Football, said in an email to The Times. “We regret that error.”
The mistake would be a regrettable error in most cases, remedied by updating websites with the pertinent information from the finished studies. However, this is not the NFL’s first time being accused of misrepresenting data to suit their own needs and downplay the serious issue of brain injuries in football.
In fact, earlier this year The Times exposed a long and consistent pattern of using flawed concussion data to minimize the number of concussions reported to the public.
In this context, it is a little bit more difficult to write off the mistake as an innocent miscommunication. Instead, it seems likely that both leagues were eager to calm parent’s concerns about their child’s safety playing football and they were willing to use misleading or inaccurate information to do so.