Members of Congress Ask NFL for Information on CTE Study Intervention

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2016

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell gestures during a press conference at the NFL owners meeting in Boca Raton, Fla., Wednesday, March 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)
Luis M. Alvarez/Associated Press

The NFL may soon have to answer for why it pulled its funding on a Boston University study into the links between playing football and neurodegenerative diseases such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, commonly known as CTE.'s Steve Fainaru reported Thursday that four members of United States Congress have pressed the league for its intervention in the research: "The letter, which was sent Wednesday to Commissioner Roger Goodell, includes new information showing how the NFL engaged in a monthslong campaign to derail the selection of Dr. Robert Stern, a longtime critic, and replace him with researchers affiliated with the league."

Last December, Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada reported for ESPN's Outside the Lines that the NFL rescinded a seven-year, $16 million grant it gave to the National Institutes of Health in 2012. League spokesman Brian McCarthy refuted the report:

On March 15, Jeff Miller, the NFL's executive vice president, admitted in front of the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Energy and Commerce that playing football can cause CTE, per Fainaru. It was the first time a league official confirmed the connection.

Earlier in the week, the New York Times' Alan Schwarz, Walt Bogdanich and Jacqueline Williams wrote a detailed report critical of the NFL's research into concussions. They contend data from the studies is skewed by the fact over 100 diagnosed concussions from 1996 to 2001 weren't included in the research.

The Times report also noted connections between the NFL and the tobacco industry, which attempted to cover up the effects of cigarettes and other tobacco products:

Concussions can hardly be equated with smoking, which kills 1,300 people a day in the United States, and The Times has found no direct evidence that the league took its strategy from Big Tobacco. But records show a long relationship between two businesses with little in common beyond the health risks associated with their products. ...

... Still, the records show that the two businesses shared lobbyists, lawyers and consultants. Personal correspondence underscored their friendships, including dinner invitations and a request for lobbying advice.

In an effort to make the game safer, the NFL recently moved touchbacks to the 25-yard line (originally at the 20) and instituted a two-strikes-and-you're-out policy for unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the same game. Both will take effect for the 2016 season as one-year tests.

That's in addition to a number of other rule changes for 2016, including making all chop blocks illegal.