Dr. Elliot Pellman, a rheumatologist, whose qualifications as the 13 year chairman of the N.F.L.’s committee on concussions have been questioned by brain injury experts, resigned Monday. His resignation follows recent articles in the New York Times about the devastating effects of concussions on retired football players and a October 2006 ESPN The Magazine expose which criticized the committee’s research. Dr. Pellman has no background in neurology. In January 2005, Pellman and Dr. David Viano, a biomechanics consultant, published in the journal Neurosurgery an article advocating that team physicians allow players to return to the same game in which the player sustained a concussion. Unfortunately, the N.F.L.’s response to Pellman’s resignation was to appoint Dr. Viano as co-chair of the committee along with Ira Casson, M.D., a neurologist.
Dr. Pellman remains on the committee and is the team doctor for the Jets and the N.H.L.’s Islanders. One has to wonder why the N.F.L. chose a person with Pellman’s lack of credentials to lead a group allegedly devoted to researching traumatic brain injuries. According to an article in today’s New York Times:
Two years ago, the Times reported that Pellman had exaggerated several aspects of his medial education and professional status in official biographical sketches and a resume prepared for an appearance before a Congressional panel. At the time, he was chief medical advisor to Major League Baseball in addition to his role with the Jets and the Islanders.
The false statements included a claim to have a medical degree from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, when he actually attended medical school in Guadalajara, Mexico….
Since becoming co-chair of the brain injury committee, Dr. Viano contradicted his article in the journal Neurosurgery by saying that the committee does not imply that its research is relevant to high school players. The 2005 journal article specifically concluded that it might be safe for high school concussion victims to return to the same game in which they suffered the concussion. The Times quoted Dr. Robert Cantu, chief of neurosurgery and director of sports medicine at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Massachusetts as saying,
“I find it very worrisome…they say one thing in one place and in another place other things…they’re going against a ton of peer-reviewed, very well scrutinized, multiple academic research centers…and their science is very suspect.”
The bottom line appears to be the N.F.L. continues to stick its head in the sand with respect to the long-term effects of traumatic brain injury. Despite the publicity surrounding the suicides of retired players with histories of brain injury (e.g., Terry Long, Mike Webster, and Andre Waters) and cases of chronic depression and brain injury symptoms (e.g., Teddy Johnson), the N.F.L. blew the opportunity to replace Pellman with a patient advocate. Dr. Viano is not even a medical doctor! I suppose that the N.F.L.’s behavior is no surprise. Any one who watched Bob Woodruff’s recent report on ABC about the care that brain injured Iraq War veterans are receiving from the Veteran’s Administration would be appalled by the cavalier attitude exhibited on the show by VA Secretary Nichols.