Yesterday, the House Energy and Commerce committee released a 91-page report bluntly titled “The National Football League’s Attempt to Influence Funding Decisions at the National Institute of Health,” accusing the NFL of trying to sway NIH’s research on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), the neurodegenerative disease found in many retired NFL players. The review comes on the heels of a series of congressional hearings about brain injury as a public health concern.
Each hearing seems to conclude with a focus on the NFL and the questions surrounding their stance on concussions and brain injuries in players. Further, following an admission from Senior Vice President of Player Health and Safety Jeff Miller at a roundtable earlier this year, the league’s front office has been questioned about hiding data and trying to buy outcomes.
This all stems from $16 million in NFL funding to NIH for CTE research. However, as events played out in 2015, the NFL questioned NIH’s selection of Dr. Bob Stern from Boston University as the primary researcher, leading to extended discussions between the league and the agency. The NIH decided to use its own funds (taxpayer dollars) for the research, and even refused the subsequent $2 million the NFL offered. Strangely, that $2 million included $1 million from the original $16 million.
The NIH has not released a statement about the agency’s refusal of NFL money, nor the conversations that took place. But it is clear that Stern has been at odds with the NFL and its selected doctors for quite some time. In fact, doctors who either work for or have received funding from the NFL (including Betsy Nabel and Richard Ellenbogen) raised concerns to NIH about selecting Stern. This contributed to significant delays in announcing the award and, according to the report, suggest inappropriate influence over NIH.
This report comes only weeks after the NFL was forced to admit in an Energy and Commerce roundtable that there is a direct link between football and brain degeneration. It also happens to coincide with a new controversy with Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and “deflategate.” Although the NFL attempted to mitigate damage from the report by announcing the locations of Super Bowls through 2021, attention will not be deflected from brain injuries for long. Energy and Commerce has already announced it will hold another hearing in 2016, and the new report makes accusations about inappropriate behavior from the NFL front office that will be compared to the Big Tobacco cover-up for decades to come.