Congressional Report Finds The NFL Tried To Interfere With Concussion Research

Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott takes a selfie with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by Dallas Cowboys as the fourth pick in the first round of the 2016 NFL football draft, Thursday, April 28, 2016, in Chicago. CREDIT: REX ARBOGAST, AP
Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott takes a selfie with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by Dallas Cowboys as the fourth pick in the first round of the 2016 NFL football draft, Thursday, April 28, 2016, in Chicago. CREDIT: REX ARBOGAST, AP

If you thought the NFL has become more trustworthy when it comes to concussion research, think again.

According to an investigation by the Democratic Staff in the House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, the league “acted improperly in attempting to influence the outcome” of the grant selection process at the National Institute of Health (NIH), which the league had provided with purportedly “unrestricted” funds to be used for concussion research.

“The NFL did not carry out its commitment to respect the science and prioritize health and safety,” the report concludes.

The committee’s investigation began after an ESPN Outside The Lines report in December, which alleged that the NFL had restricted a large portion of its $30 million grant to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from being used in a Boston University study on CTE, a progressive brain disease caused by repeated brain trauma.

The league objected to the fact that the study was led by Dr. Robert Stern, the director of clinical research at the BU CTE Center who has been very vocally critical about the NFL’s handling of brain injuries.

Outside The Lines continued to report on this subject throughout the start of the year, and found that the NFL was instead donating its funds to doctors with close ties to the league.

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that researches at the BU brain bank found evidence of CTE in the brain of Bubba Smith, an All-Pro NFL defensive end who passed away in 2011. Smith is the 90th deceased former NFL player that BU has diagnosed with CTE.

The congressional committee’s report clearly caught the eye of current and former players.

“I almost cannot believe it, it is as if you have been lied to your whole NFL career,” Josh Cribbs, a current NFL free agent and one of the best return specialists in the history of the league, said on Outside The Lines. “When you get to the NFL, we push integrity, and this is going against just what the NFL stands for.”

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The NFL has rejected “any suggestion of improper influence” over the NIH study, but the congressional investigation is just another in a long line of damaging reports when it comes to the league’s credibility on brain injuries.

Just this March, at a congressional roundtable on concussions, Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety, admitted that there was an “unequivocal link” between football and CTE, which can result in dementia, mood swings, and depression.

But since then, the league has gone to great lengths to downplay that link, and has even threatened to sue the New York Times over an investigation about the NFL’s flawed concussion reporting and its ties to the tobacco industry. That report found that from 1996–2001, the league omitted more than 100 concussions from data it used for extensive concussion research.

Can This New Football League Be The Savior The Sport Needs?As I drove up to Baltimore on a rainy, cold day in March to watch the Baltimore Cobras of the American 7s Football…thinkprogress.orgWith so much information about concussions and CTE now public — such as the BU study that found evidence of CTE in 96 percent of the brains of deceased former NFL players it examined — players are now taking their future into their own hands.

Last fall, rookie Adrian Coxson retired before his career even began after suffering a concussion in training camp and worrying that the next hit he received “could possibly kill me or be life-damaging.” Throughout the league, players such as 23-year-old Buffalo Bills linebacker A.J. Tarpley and 32-year-old New York Jets left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, continue to retire early.

“After months of introspection, I am retiring from football,” Tarpley wrote on Instagram. “I suffered the third and fourth concussions of my career this past season and I am walking away from the game I love to preserve my future health.”