The Pro Football Concussion Report

A Fan's Look at Head Injuries and the Concussion Crisis in Football

Paul Tagliabue – Football Concussion Hall of Fame

NFL Commissioners Paul Tagliabue and Pete Rozelle


Although Roger Goodell has become the face of the NFL’s concussion strategy, most of the allegations in the concussion lawsuits actually occurred while Washington D.C. “anti-trust lawyer” Paul Tagliabue worked for the owners as commissioner of the NFL.  In 1989, Tagliabue was chosen by the team owners over Saints executive Jim Finks and former Green Bay Packer Willie Davis to lead the NFL. He held the position until 2007 when Roger Goodell took over. While Tagliabue’s business acumen helped expand the popularity of the NFL to unprecedented levels, it was his legal acumen honed over a 20 year career at Washington D.C. law firm Covington & Burling that served to indemnify the league and add a sophisticated layer of risk management to the multi-billion dollar NFL business. 

It was the execution of his learned strategy of loss protection that may have led Tagliabue to the now controversial hiring of Dr. Elliot Pellman and the 1994 formation of the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee (MTBI). Tagliabue’s selection of Pellman stands as the most visible and celebrated non-sequitur in the myriad of concussion lawsuit allegations.  Why would an organization with the resources of the NFL and the importance of the endeavor, hire a rheumatologist to lead a neuroscience research and education team? Still employed by the NFL as their “medical director,” Pellman stood at the forefront of this committee for 13 years. He spoke for the brain injury committee and the NFL and worse, he authored and published scientific papers that disputed the findings of legitimate neuroscientists and for years Pellman minimized the risk of long term cognitive damage from concussions suffered playing football.


The NFL took a page right out of the tobacco industry playbook and engaged in a campaign of fraud and deception, ignoring the risks of traumatic brain injuries in football and deliberately spreading false information to its players.
~  Attorney Sol Weiss 


When attorney Sol Weiss (Weiss filed the first of the federal concussion lawsuits in Philadelphia in 2011) compared the NFL loss mitigation strategy to the strategy of Big Tobacco he may not have even been aware of how close the actual tobacco industry playbook really was.

Tagliabue’s former law firm Covington & Burling (he returned there after leaving the NFL) was perhaps Big Tobacco’s leading legal consultant, navigating the industry through decades of growth, lawsuits and scientific attack. The firm helped create and manage the Tobacco Institute, an organization that similar to the NFL’s MTBI Committee, served to dispute the findings of science that linked smoking to any harmful long term damage. Covington & Burling, along with several other prominent law firms was publicly rebuked for its part in misdirecting research and ultimately, misleading the public about the harmful effects of smoking cigarettes.

Tagliabue’s role as a pivotal character in the NFL concussion litigation, although largely ignored by the media in favor of allegations aimed at current NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, did gain a little traction last year when it was revealed that Dr. Pellman also served as Tagliabue’s personal physician for 9 years.

No personal medical care had anything to do with Dr. Pellman’s appointment to the committee in 1994 ~ Tagliabue statement released by NFL’s Greg Aiello


Tagliabue, whose current Covington & Burling biography refers to him as the NFL’s “chief executive” has continued to be paid millions by the NFL in “deferred compensation” and bonuses.

(This article was previously published on April 30, 2014)


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