Goodell has walked a fine line in his public remarks, offering sweeping promises while refusing to commit himself on concussion science. In his speech to the Harvard School of Public Health, in the same breath with which he pledged to "take the head out of the game" he declined to link football head traumas to neurological diseases despite the burgeoning body of research. "We need to be driven by facts and data," he said, "not perceptions and suppositions."
But there is reason to question the NFL's commitment to data, given that it produces more detailed injury reports for the use of opposing teams, media and gamblers than it does for the government. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration requires all U.S. employers to complete individual forms for each workplace injury. The NFL's own records show there were 4,473 injuries in 2011. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics table for the same period shows just 960 "nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses" for all of the major sports leagues combined in the same period.
Three years ago NFLPA attorney Joe Briggs requested that each club send him their OSHA forms. "There were some clubs that did not reply to our request, and others replied with records that were almost completely illegible," he said. Six teams, he said, didn't respond at all.
Injury reports are how government agencies assess industries, in order to make reforms that impact public health. John Burton Jr., former director of the National Workers Compensation Board, briefly consulted with the NFL in the late 1980s on health issues and examined its injury records. Statistically, the most dangerous American industry from year to year is meatpacking. But the numbers Burton saw exceeded it. "What we saw was the injury rate for football players looked like the most dangerous profession in the country," he said.