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The NFL keeps trying to fight the New York Times' concussion story

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The league is demanding a retraction for the report.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL is demanding that the New York Times issue a retraction for an article published last week that was critical of the league's internal concussion data and also compared the NFL to the tobacco industry, according to a report from Politico.

In a six-page letter sent by NFL attorney Brad Karp to the Times and obtained by Politico, the league described the paper's story as "false and defamatory."

"Its sensational headline notwithstanding, the story did not show any meaningful 'ties to the tobacco industry,'" wrote Karp. "Nor did it present a shred of evidence to support its thesis that the NFL intentionally concealed concussion research data. By publishing the story, fully aware of the falsity of the underlying facts, the Times recklessly disregarded the truth and defamed the NFL."

In its report, penned by Alan Schwarz, Walt Bogdanich and Jacqueline Williams, the Times claimed that the NFL omitted more than 100 diagnosed concussions from its study on the issue from 1996 to 2001, including several suffered by well-known players like Troy Aikman and Steve Young. The Times also reported that the NFL shared lobbyists, lawyers and consultants with the tobacco industry.

Through a statement to Politico by sports editor Jason Stallman, the Times said it stands by its report and sees "no reason to retract anything."

"Our reporting showed that more than 100 such concussions,€” including some sustained by star players, were not included in the [NFL's] data set, resulting in inaccurate findings," the statement added. The NFL has been aggressively countering the Times' reporting.

In its letter, the league also requested that the Times staffers who worked on this story "preserve their notes, correspondence, emails, recordings and work papers and all other electronic and hard copy documents generated or received in connection with their work." When asked by Politico whether the NFL would sue if its demand was not met league spokesman Joe Lockhart said, "We won't prejudge the reaction of The New York Times. We make a strong argument for a retraction, one we expect to them to take seriously."

The NFL has aggressively challenged the report since it was published. The measures include a 2,500-word rebuttal on its website calling the story "sheer speculation based on a mere handful of anecdotal and cursory references" and banner ads above the story on the Times' website detailing the steps it has taken to advance player safety. The league also paid to promote its Twitter posts rebutting the story.