HOUSTON -- Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue is apologizing for remarks he made decades ago about concussions in football.
In an interview with the Talk of Fame Network that airs nationwide Wednesday night, Tagliabue admitted he erred in 1994 in saying concussions were "one of those pack-journalism issues." He also claimed then that the number of concussions "is relatively small; the problem is the journalist issue."
Up for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, Tagliabue spoke out Wednesday about a major blemish on a record highlighted by labor peace throughout his 17-year tenure.
"Obviously," he said, "I do regret those remarks. Looking back, it was not sensible language to use to express my thoughts at the time. My language was intemperate, and it led to serious misunderstanding. I overreacted on issues which we were already working on. But that doesn't excuse the overreaction and intemperate language.
"Bottom line, it sounded like I was shooting the messenger, which was the concussion issue. My intention at the time was to make a point which could have been made fairly simply: That there was a need for better data. There was a need for more reliable information about concussions and uniformity in terms of how they were being defined in terms of severity."
Tagliabue explained on the Talk of Fame broadcast that the reporting of head trauma issues was inadequate back then, that the system needed improvement. No firm conclusions could be drawn based on the information the league had at the time, he said.
So when he appeared at a New York panel discussion, Tagliabue was making comments without in-depth knowledge of the issue.
"A few days before that panel, we had reviewed information about concussions and that was one of the things that led me to offer the opinion that there was not an increase," he said. "We looked at data from the five seasons before '94, and it was relatively flat in terms of concussions. And data from '94 was consistent with the prior five seasons.
"But I think the consistency there was more about the inadequacy of our reporting system than what was going on on the playing field."
Tagliabue also addressed his 1994 appointment of Dr. Elliot Pellman, a rheumatologist who became Tagliabue's personal physician, as the head of the NFL's mild traumatic brain injury committee. He said that Jets owner Leon Hess suggested Pellman.
"Hess said that he was a hard worker, he was highly intelligent, he was a good organizer and he could work effectively with coaches and players," Tagliabue explained, "and he was willing to stand up for the medical point of view and not be cowed. So I put Dr. Pellman in charge, knowing what his specialties were."
Pellman became a highly criticized figure on that committee because of his lack of background in head trauma cases.
"It was truly based on track record that these men had with their teams and what I thought they could help us accomplish with internal change," Tagliabue said of the appointment.
Tagliabue was also a finalist in 2006, 2008 and 2009. He is eligible in the contributors category along with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.