The NFL was forced to respond to a press release from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) as the organization has made the claim that NFL-funded research has put animals in danger.
This, of course, comes just as the NFL has settled a lawsuit lodged by former players, alleging that the NFL was negligent in its concern for human safety. Now, PETA has set its cross-hairs on the very research that could help those former people. It says:
These projects, many of which are ongoing, are crudely designed to recreate injuries on the football field. They have involved inflicting severe knee injuries on dogs, after which the animals are killed and have their legs cut off; repeatedly slamming heavy weights into rats' heads to create brain and spinal cord injuries and skull fractures; and cutting open the heads of mice and delivering crushing blows to cause traumatic brain injuries. Many animals have even died during the studies because of the severe injuries that they sustained.
The link above, which leads to a press release on the PETA website, also includes a GIF of a rat being bludgeoned in the head by a piston. Regardless of your political leanings and previous thoughts of PETA, it's a disturbing image and one that seems to validate the claims made by the animal rights organization.
Bleacher Report reached out to the NFL for comment and received a statement that:
Grant recipients must follow existing industry ethical standards for medical research established by the scientific community. All grant requests have to be approved in advance by the institutional review board of the participating institution. In addition, we require any proposal to have been submitted for approvals by the institution’s animal care and use committee prior to applying for funds.
It's the NFL's money, yes, but the NFL is not a scientific research body. The league maintains (and rightfully so) that the buck needs to be passed on to the individual institutions. It's neither the NFL's place, nor concern, to micromanage medical research, nor would it be in the best interest of any of the parties involved—including PETA and the animals it cares about.
The NFL is right to fund research that will help current, former and future athletes. Not only will NFL players be helped, but the research that this money pays for will go to help youth athletes who will never make it to the pros as well. Many of the initiatives also seek to better military safety technology as well—extending the benefits to a much-less metaphorical battlefield.
Justin Goodman, PETA's Laboratory Investigations Department Director, responded to Bleacher Report regarding the NFL's statement:
In its statement defending cruel experiments on animals, the NFL neglected to say that contrived head-injury studies have never yielded an effective treatment or preventive measure. They do not work and will not help players.
Many health charities have policies against funding experiments on animals because they are wasteful and cruel. Even the people conducting the experiments can't figure out how they relate to real football injuries. It's not the animals but the NFL brass who chose to waste money on these meaningless experiments who need to have their heads examined! NFL players deserve the best possible health research, and it's absolutely not going to be obtained by bashing a rat's head in with a metal rod.
No one—the NFL included—would tell PETA or animal lovers to sacrifice animal safety or that animal testing is the only answer. However, if PETA truly wants action, it's barking up the wrong tree. Taking on the NFL may entice headlines, but (at best, per their desires) could only seek to defund important research that may or may not continue without the NFL's dollars.
If PETA truly wants results, and not just publicity, the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health and individual research entities needs to change its ethical standards, because it's not the NFL's place to do so—nor should it be.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand by the author.