National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell announced this morning that the league is donating $30 million to the National Institutes of Health’s Neurology Institute to study concussions and related brain injuries in football players and members of the military, two groups who have been the subject of public safety scrutiny in recent years.
Goodell, joined by NIH’s Dr. Story Landis and Army chief of staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, announced the grant in an interview about concussion research and head trauma on the Today show this morning:
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The NFL’s leap into the realm of national concussion research is certainly welcome news, particularly at a time when American soldiers and football players are suffering head injuries at alarming rates. Almost a quarter-million American troops have returned home from Afghanistan and Iraq with traumatic brain injuries, and there were 190 reported concussions in 320 NFL games last season. Those numbers are almost certainly under-reported, as Odierno noted on NBC today. The grant, as Landis noted, “will accomplish a huge amount” of research toward traumatic brain injuries that are also a leading cause of death among children and the elderly.
While it’s welcome news, though, the NFL’s donation comes at an interesting time, a point NBC’s Matt Lauer failed to acknowledge in his interview with Goodell. The league is currently the subject of a class action lawsuit from more than 2,000 players who claim that it covered up research linking concussions sustained on the football field to chronic brain injuries. In the suit, former players claim that the league deliberately falsified the results of a study conducted in 1994, and the league’s concussion committee, for 15 years, denied that concussions could lead to chronic brain injuries. The NFL’s current head of the concussion research committee dismissed years of league research as bunk in 2011, telling Congress, “There was no science” in the claims that concussions and brain injuries weren’t linked. But right now, the league is trying to get the lawsuit dismissed on grounds that it is “preempted by federal labor law.”
Under Goodell, the NFL has instituted new player safety programs, including one to benefit players who suffer head injuries during their careers, but it has also come under fire from the NFL Players Association for its willingness to use replacement officials to start the 2012 season, a decision NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith said “flies in the face” of efforts to make the game safer for players.
Our troops, our children, our elderly, and our football players will benefit from research that comes from the NFL’s $30 million donation, and it is certainly encouraging that the NFL is putting at least some money where its mouth is on player safety and brain injuries. But that shouldn’t paper over the very real fight former players are having to get equal justice from a league that spent years failing to acknowledge — and potentially actively concealing — the threat of brain injuries on its fields.
U.S. government researchers today released a report stating that former NFL players are four times more likely than the general population to die from brain diseases like Lou Gehrig’s disease and Alzheimer’s. “The researchers suspect their findings may illustrate the long-term consequences of the multiple concussions that NFL players sustain throughout their careers in football, but they cannot establish causation without more data,” my colleague Tara Culp-Ressler wrote.