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NFL Meddling in Brain Injury Research

In 2012, the National Football League made headlines with a promise to donate a substantial sum of money to further the field of concussion research. The NFL promised to provide $30 million in research funding to the National Institutes of Health. The NFL further claimed that the gift was not restricted and that use of the money would be overseen entirely by the NIH. A recent Congressional study has concluded that the NFL engaged in efforts to improperly influence the research.

Specifically, the study found that the NFL used the gift, and the threat of its removal, as leverage to push the NIH to fund studies conducted by people associated with the league, as well as to reject a study proposed by known critic of the NFL. The NFL disputes these findings and claims that its concerns about the direction of the research were raised “through the appropriate channels.” The research in question was to be directed by Dr. Robert Stern and concerned the characterization of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in high-risk adults. 

CTE is the condition most have come to association with repeated head trauma like that suffered by some football players. The link between CTE and football is one that some within the NFL have attempted to deny or downplay. There is no cure for CTE and definitive diagnosis of the disease can only be accomplished through an autopsy.

The Congressional study also found that the nonprofit Foundation for the National Institutes of Health failed in its duty to manage the relationship between the NFL and the NIH. The FNIH participated in a lengthy debate with the NFL about the use of the funds, rather than asserting the terms under which the gift was given. Regardless of the mistakes made the FNIH, the conclusions reached in the Congressional study once again raise questions about just how serious the NFL is about understanding concussions and the impact of brain trauma on its players.

Sources: The New York Times, “N.F.L. Tried to Influence Concussion Research, Congressional Study Finds,” by John Branch, 23 May 2016 

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