Heads Up Football was supposed to be the NFL's salve for parents wary of letting their kids play football. The safety-training program for coaches—which the NFL funds and promotes and the USA Football organization manages—has been given a strong push by the NFL, and the league has been citing a 2015 study claiming the program lowered the overall injury rate by 76% and concussions by 30%. But the New York Times took a closer look at the study, carried out by the Datalys Center for Sports Injury Research and Prevention, and found the research indicates something else: namely, "no demonstrable effect on concussions" and "significantly less effect" on all injuries than what the NFL and USA Football have been touting. Both groups say they erroneously shared preliminary data, which turned out to be much rosier than the final results published five months later.
“We’re the ones that put out the numbers," says the president of Datalys. "We’re the ones that kind of blew it." A post at Deadspin, however, is skeptical that the NFL didn't know it was pushing iffy data, and Louis Bien writes at SBNation that "bad science is a pattern for the NFL." Laura Wagner writes at Slate that "blaming this all on a couple of bumbling researchers isn't going to fly" and that it seems the final results were "swept under the rug"—she notes that both the NFL and USA Football still have older promotional info with the inaccurate data on their sites, despite promising to yank it down after the Times report. In a statement on its site, USA Football says it will no longer cite studies until they've undergone peer review. (How concussions ruined a young athlete's brain.)