The saga of the NFL and its responsibility for traumatic brain injuries to players continued this week with a report from the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Energy and Commerce. The report alleged that NFL executives tried to interfere in the funding of studies of the brain disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE.
The NFL agreed in 2012 to an “unrestricted gift” to the National Institutes of Health of $30 million to fund research into the disease, its effects on players and possible treatments for it. All of the money was spent on brain research related to TBI and CTE, however one particular project was targeted by the NFL, according to the report. The project, a 7 year study meant to discover a way to detect CTE in the brain while a person is still alive, was supposed to be conducted by Boston University researcher Dr. Robert Stern. At present, CTE can only be definitely diagnosed posthumously, thereby negating any way to effectively treat those who suffer from it. Stern had butted heads with the NFL before over concussion injuries and players.
In the report, members of Congress criticized the co-chair of the NFL committee on brain injuries, Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, for his attempts to take the study away from Stern and the NIH and have it conducted instead by the league’s own team. Ellenbogen would have benefited personally from this, as it would be his research group that would be awarded the $16 million dollars for the project. Keeping the study with the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee would also mean that there would be no strict peer-review process as there is in an NIH study.
The ESPN program, Outside the Lines, reported that the NIH warned the NFL that if they backed out of the study, the cost would have to be borne by the taxpayers. The NIH reviewed the objections of the NFL to the study, but ultimately decided that the award to Stern would stand and the NFL’s concern over conflicts of interest were not valid. The NFL subsequently backed out of funding Stern’s study, and the cost was passed on to the tax payers. While the NFL did spend $30 million on studies, as agreed, the report from Congress stressed that the interference of league officials was contrary to the purpose of the process.
The NFL, in a statement, disagree with the report saying, “The NFL rejects the allegations laid out ... There is no dispute that there were concerns raised about both the nature of the study in question and possible conflicts of interest. These concerns were raised for review and consideration through the appropriate channels. ... It is deeply disappointing the authors of the Staff Report would make allegations directed at doctors affiliated with the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee without ever speaking to them.”
In autopsies on NFL players who donated their brains to research, CTE was found in 96% of players. In March 2016, the NFL admitted for the first time that there is a connection between CTE and football head injuries. The video below explains more about the report from Congress.
, US House Committee on Energy and Commerce