July 3, 1968 |
White Plains, New York
|Residence||New York, New York|
|Alma mater||University of Pennsylvania|
|Employer||New York Times|
|Known for||Popularizing concern for sports concussions, baseball writing|
|Home town||Scarsdale, New York|
Alan Schwarz (born July 3, 1968) is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated National Correspondent at The New York Times best known for writing more than 100 articles that exposed the seriousness of concussions among football players of all ages. His investigative and profile pieces are generally credited with revolutionizing the respect and protocol for head injuries in youth and professional sports. Schwarz's work was profiled in The New Yorker and several films, including "Head Games"  and the 2013 “Frontline” PBS documentary "League of Denial". The Columbia Journalism Review featured him in its 2011 Art of Great Reporting issue and wrote of his concussion work, "He put the issue on the agenda of lawmakers, sports leagues, and the media at large — and helped create a new debate about risk and responsibility in sports." The series was described by one Hall of Fame sports writer, Murray Chass, as "the most remarkable feat in sports journalism history."
In 2011, Schwarz moved from the Times sports department to its National Desk and began writing controversial pieces on young people abusing Adderall and other stimulant medications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. One April 2013 story, which uncovered how 15 percent of American children (and almost 20 percent of all boys nationwide) were being diagnosed with A.D.H.D. by the time they turn 18, prompted U.S. Congressman John F. Tierney to call for government hearings on overdiagnosis of A.D.H.D. and overprescription of stimulants. The stories have been met with considerable backlash from A.D.H.D. advocates.
Schwarz's background in mathematics is considered one of his strengths as a reporter, particularly in his investigation of football brain injuries. The American Statistical Association honored him for this in 2013 with its lifetime Excellence in Statistical Reporting award.
Schwarz's father taught him how to compute square roots when he was 4 years old. His interest in mathematics led to a strong interest in baseball, and he served as the statistician for the baseball team at Scarsdale High School,. At the University of Pennsylvania, where he majored in mathematics, Schwarz began covering sports for the student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian. After graduating in 1990, Schwarz decided to attempt a career in journalism rather than follow his original plan of becoming a high school math teacher.
Schwarz spent five months at The National Sports Daily before being hired in 1991 by Baseball America, where he was the senior writer until he joined the Times in March 2007. He covered baseball exclusively from 1991 through 2006, writing not only for 'Baseball America' but ESPN The Magazine, Newsweek, Inside Sports and other national publications. As a contributing freelancer to the Times, he co-authored the Sunday column "Keeping Score" with David Leonhardt, where they applied statistical analysis to ongoing sports news. He also was the very popular host of ESPN's "Baseball Today", the No. 1 rated individual-sport podcast on iTunes in 2006.
In 2004, Schwarz published his first book, The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination with Statistics. The book covers baseball's infatuation with statistical analysis, profiling the lives and influence of characters like Henry Chadwick, George Lindsey, Earnshaw Cook and Bill James, as well as the development of The Baseball Encyclopedia in the 1960s. Drawing widespread acclaim, the book was named by ESPN the "Baseball Book of the Year" in 2004.
In 2005, a mutual friend had introduced him to Chris Nowinski, a former Harvard University football player who later joined World Wrestling Entertainment and had written a book manuscript on football’s concussion crisis. Schwarz recognized the importance of Nowinski’s research and later told the Columbia Journalism Review:
Like everybody else I thought a concussion was a brain bruise — I had no interest in, no knowledge about the topic. But you could tell this was important. So I introduced the wrestler to a couple of publishers and agents, as a professional courtesy . . . I forgot all about it until about a year and a half later, when I got a call completely out of the blue from Chris Nowinski . . . And he said, "I’m pretty sure I’ve got something big here, but I’m not sure I know what to do with it, and you’re the only one who ever took me seriously." It was Andre Waters.
Schwarz profiled how Waters, the former Philadelphia Eagles safety who had committed suicide two months before, had been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.) – the brain disease more commonly known as pugilistica dementia, or "punch-drunk syndrome". With each new player diagnosed with C.T.E., and as more players and families went public with retirees’ early-onset dementia, the N.F.L. and its committee of doctors insisted in Schwarz’s stories and elsewhere that there was no evidence to connect football with later cognitive disease. One example came in January 2009, when Tom McHale, a former N.F.L. lineman who had recently died at 45, became the sixth player to be diagnosed with C.T.E. High-ranking league executive Jeff Pash said in Schwarz’s story in the Times: "There are a great many people who have played football and other contact sports for many years and at high levels who do not appear to have suffered these types of deficits. Whether it's President Ford or major business leaders, whether it's people on television."
Schwarz later told the Columbia Journalism Review how he approached this type of pushback from the league and other doctors:
If I didn’t know anything about neuroscience, I did know enough about conditional probability to know that something was different about this group of football players. And when the NFL, or the NFL doctors, tried to tell me that those [six] didn’t mean anything—that their published studies asserting that everything was hunky-dory were the last word on the matter—they were attacking my core belief system. They were telling me that two plus two equaled five, and I knew they were wrong. Because the point is not that there are hundreds of football players out there who are not suffering any of these types of deficits. The point is how many of them are having the deficits, and how that compares to the general population.
Schwarz’s series put concussions on the front burner of football debate and evolved to examine not just N.F.L. issues but the dangers of head trauma in high school and other youth sports, like girls' soccer and basketball. The U.S. House Judiciary Committee devoted three hearings to the issue of sport-related brain injuries, repeatedly citing Schwarz's work during them. Congressman Anthony Weiner said during a pivotal hearing in October 2009, "I think the record should show beyond any work of any member of Congress . . . we probably wouldn't even be here today if it were not for some of the stories that he has written."
In November and December 2009, under significant legislative and public pressure, the N.F.L. ended its denials of the long-term risks of football: It revamped its rules regarding concussion management, suspended its study of retired players' cognitive decline which Schwarz had exposed as improperly designed, and accepted the resignations of the two co-chairmen of a league committee that had conducted questionable research. The N.F.L. also began running the first public service announcement warning young athletes about the dangers of concussions. Following this, state legislatures all over the nation began enacting statutes to require education and stronger rules to keep young athletes safer.
In 2010, a major investigative piece by Schwarz evidenced what were called glaring lapses in the safety standards for football helmets among players of all ages. The story prompted an investigation by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the introduction of bills in both houses of Congress covering football helmet safety and a call for inquiry by the Federal Trade Commission for false and misleading advertising by manufacturers. The article led directly to Inez Tenenbaum, chairman of the C.P.S.C., to push to partner with the N.F.L. to replace unsafe football helmets in underfunded youth leagues.
Author and New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell, whose 2009 profile  of football’s dangers also brought wide attention to the issue, has often said that Schwarz deserved most of the credit: "For the life of me I have no idea why he hasn’t won a Pulitzer ... It’s a symptom of some kind of broader social resistance to this message. People, they don’t want to hear it. Because they’ve got a kid or a sibling or a cousin or something or a nephew playing the sport, and they still want to close their eyes and block their ears."
Schwarz’s reporting has generally been recognized as leading to a pending $765 million settlement to resolve the class-action lawsuit between the N.F.L. and 4,500 retired players over brain injuries. Schwarz appeared on NBC’s "Meet the Press" to discuss a column he wrote that analyzed the mathematics behind the settlement.
Schwarz’s recent reporting has focused on the rising rates of A.D.H.D. diagnoses in children and the abuse potential of stimulant medications like Adderall. Some doctors have praised the series for raising awareness of problems in children’s mental-health treatment. Many A.D.H.D. advocates have criticized the series, however, as further stigmatizing children and adults with A.D.H.D.
- Alan Schwarz, The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination with Statistics. New York: St. Martin's, 2004 & 2005. ISBN 0-312-32223-2.
- Alan Schwarz, Once Upon a Game: Baseball's Greatest Memories. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2007. ISBN 978-0-618-73127-5.
Awards and recognition
- 2007 Associated Press Sports Editors Award for Project Reporting
- 2008 New York Press Club Award for Journalism
- 2009 George Polk Award
- 2009 Associated Press Sports Editors Award for Project Reporting
- 2010 Society of Professional Journalists Deadline Club Award for Sports Journalism 
- 2010 New York Press Club Award for Journalism
- 2010 Associated Press Sports Editors Award for Project Reporting
- 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service (Finalist)
- 2011 Society of Professional Journalists Deadline Club Award for Public Service
- 2013 American Statistical Association Excellence in Statistical Reporting
- "To Schwarz, numbers aren't just part of NFL brain-trauma story -- they are story". Archived from the original on 2010-02-05. Retrieved May 22, 2013.
- "The Numbers Game" Features Strat-O-Matic.
- Bronx Banter Interview
- Schwarz, Alan (January 18, 2007). "Expert Ties Ex-Player's Suicide to Brain Damage". The New York Times.
- Schwarz, Alan (December 3, 2009). "N.F.L. Issues New Guidelines on Concussions". The New York Times.
- Schwarz, Alan (December 20, 2009). "N.F.L. Suspends Its Study on Concussions". The New York Times.
- Schwarz, Alan (November 25, 2009). "N.F.L. Head Injury Study Leaders Quit". The New York Times.
- Schwarz, Alan (January 31, 2010). "States Taking the Lead Addressing Concussions". The New York Times.
- Schwarz, Alan (October 20, 2010). "Helmet Safety Unchanged as Injury Concerns Rise". The New York Times.
- Schwarz, Alan (March 15, 2011). "Helmet Safety Is Focus of Two Bills in Congress". The New York Times.
- Schwarz, Alan (January 3, 2011). "Senator Tom Udall Wants F.T.C. Inquiry on Safety of Football Helmets". The New York Times.