New questions about NFL doctor
For years, Dr. Elliot Pellman has been a central
figure in the NFL's concussion crisis. As chairman of the league's
powerful research arm for more than a decade, Pellman led efforts
to discredit independent scientists and presided over studies that
portrayed concussions as minor injuries. His name appears 26 times
in a lawsuit that contends the NFL concealed a link between
football and brain damage.
But interviews and previously unpublished documents raise new
questions about how Pellman -- a Long Island rheumatologist with no
previous expertise in brain research -- came to wield so much
authority over the NFL's concussion program. Pellman, who remains
employed by the league, served as Paul Tagliabue's personal
physician for nearly a decade, "Outside the Lines" and "Frontline"
have learned, while Pellman led the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury
Committee, which shaped the NFL's concussion policies. As New
York Jets team doctor at the same time,
Pellman put those policies into practice, often
allowing concussed athletes back into games, according to
players and other sources.
Tagliabue confirmed Wednesday he had been treated by Pellman,
but not until 1997, three years after he had appointed Pellman to
lead the concussion committee. "No personal medical care had
anything to do with Dr. Pellman's appointment to the committee in
1994," the former commissioner said in a statement released by NFL
spokesman Greg Aiello. Aiello said Tagliabue saw Pellman "on
occasion" as a patient for nine years until Tagliabue retired in
Pellman's relationship with Tagliabue is certain to be explored
thoroughly if the lawsuit filed by more than 4,800 retired players
against the NFL moves forward. The league has distanced itself from
the MTBI committee, asserting that its work was independent. The
league also says its Head, Neck and Spine Committee, which replaced
the MTBI group, operates independently of the league office. Last
month, a judge ordered the two sides in the lawsuit to mediation to
seek a settlement.
"This is something that should scare the hell out of the NFL as
part of the concussion litigation," Warren Zola, a sports law
expert and assistant dean at Boston College, said when told of
Pellman's doctor-patient relationship with Tagliabue.
As a veteran team doctor with experience treating concussions,
Pellman might have been qualified to lead the committee, but his
relationship with Tagliabue could undermine his credibility, Zola
"As a matter of law, I'm not sure it would be all that damning,"
Zola said. "But if the NFL were to find themselves in front of a
jury, the jury would likely interpret this as evidence of
negligence. It's another rationale for the NFL to try to
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