The link between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, continues to make news well into the NFL’s offseason, and the league made something of a backpedaling statement Tuesday.
According to Steve Fainaru of ESPN.com, the NFL’s senior vice president of health and safety policy, Jeff Miller, said Monday, “The answer to that question is certainly yes,” when asked if there was a connection between football and CTE. Up until then, a senior league official had never admitted there was an association between the two.
However, the NFL made sure to quickly state Miller’s remarks shouldn’t have an impact on its concussion settlement with former players.
According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, attorney Paul Clement, who also represents the NFL in the Tom Brady appeal regarding the Deflategate scandal, told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on Tuesday that Miller’s comments “have no bearing on the pending appeal.”
He added more, per Florio:
Mr. Miller’s statement yesterday to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy & Commerce roundtable discussion is consistent with NFL positions in court and otherwise. The NFL has previously acknowledged studies identifying a potential association between CTE and certain football players, including Dr. [Ann] McKee’s work, to which the NFL has contributed funding. Conspicuously omitted from Mr. Molo’s letter is any reference to either Mr. Miller’s comments on the limited knowledge of the ‘incidence or the prevalence’ of CTE or the District Court’s express finding that the scientific community indisputably acknowledges that the causes of CTE remain unknown and the subject of extensive medical and scientific research.
This all stems from the fact former players jumped on Miller’s remarks after he made them.
Florio cited Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal in a separate piece and said Miller’s admission of a connection between football and CTE led former players who oppose the current concussion settlement to file a letter with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Those players highlighted Miller’s comments in that letter; however, Clement said the letter “raises nothing new, pertinent or authoritative” about the appeal.
While a senior NFL official admitting an association between football and CTE would seem to have a clear impact on a settlement regarding concussions, players only receive payment for CTE if they are found to have the disease after death, per Florio. That doesn’t help those who could be living with it unless they show severe signs of it.
According to Paul Liotta and Mark Emery of the New York Daily News, CTE can only be found posthumously. The lack of a test to discover CTE in patients while they are alive creates what Florio called “a balancing act” for paying players who have died rather than those who are living with the disease.
Miller’s statements may have made headlines, but they didn’t do much to solve that issue, especially with the comments Clement offered Tuesday.
During Miller's admission about the link between football and CTE, he cited the work of Boston University neuropathologist Dr. Ann McKee. Fainaru noted McKee has diagnosed CTE in 90 of the 94 former NFL players whose brains she has examined to date.
Between the Will Smith-led movie Concussion and the constant battle between the NFL and former players about CTE, football and head trauma continue to be connected in the public’s eye. Whether that link impacts the existing settlement remains to be seen.