NFL Acknowledges Link Between Football and CTE: Latest Details and Comments

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist

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A senior NFL official acknowledged Monday there is an existing association between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, commonly known as CTE, according to Steve Fainaru of ESPN.com. Fainaru wrote it was "the first time a senior league official has conceded football's connection to the devastating brain disease."

When asked if there is a link between football and neurodegenerative diseases, Jeff Miller, the NFL's senior vice president of health and safety policy, said, per Fainaru, "The answer to that question is certainly yes."

"The admission came during a roundtable discussion on concussions convened by the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Energy and Commerce," Fainaru wrote.

After Miller spoke, the NFL tried to clarify the league's stance, via A.J. Perez of USA Today:

“He was discussing Dr. [Ann McKee]'s findings and made the additional point that a lot more questions need to be answered,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said to Perez in a statement.  “He said that the experts should speak to the state of the science.”

“We want the facts, so we can develop better solutions,” McCarthy continued. “And that's why we're deeply committed to advancing medical research on head trauma, including CTE, to let the science go where the science goes. We know the answers will come as this field of study continues to advance.”

The league also released a statement on the comments' relevance to its appeal of the massive concussion settlement on Tuesday night, per Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk:

Attorney Paul Clement, who also represents the NFL in the pending Tom Brady appeal, explained to the Third Circuit that Miller’s remarks “have no bearing on the pending appeal,” and that the letter “raises nothing new, pertinent, or authoritative” regarding the appeal.

“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,” Clement wrote. “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.”

Miller reportedly looked to the work of Dr. McKee for his answer. McKee is a neuropathologist at Boston University, and Fainaru wrote she has diagnosed CTE in 176 people posthumously and 90 of 94 former NFL players.

McKee also weighed in on the topic, per Fainaru:

I unequivocally think there's a link between playing football and CTE. We've seen it in 90 out of 94 NFL players whose brains we've examined, we've found it in 45 out of 55 college players and six out of 26 high school players. No, I don't think this represents how common this disease is in the living population, but the fact that over five years I've been able to accumulate this number of cases in football players, it cannot be rare. In fact, I think we are going to be surprised at how common it is.

It's a chilling assessment that comes as the topics of head trauma, concussions and violence in the NFL and football in general continue to make headlines.

Fainaru noted NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, as well as other representatives of the league, have never said there's a connection between the sport and CTE, even when asked by Congress. What's more, Dr. Mitch Berger—the neurosurgeon who chairs the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee—last month said there wasn't an "established link between football and CTE," per Fainaru.

"I think the broader point, and the one that your question gets to, is what that necessarily means, and where do we go from here with that information," Miller said, per Fainaru.

CTE has been in the headlines for years, including recently. Last month, former Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler was diagnosed with it posthumously, per John Branch of the New York Times.

In January, the league released injury data that indicated concussions reached a four-year high in 2015 after having dropped during the three prior seasons.

Paul Liotta and Mark Emery of the New York Daily News listed a number of former NFL players who have been diagnosed with CTE—which can only be found posthumously—including former New York Giants safety Tyler Sash.

Liotta and Emery noted Hall of Famer and former Monday Night Football announcer Frank Gifford, superstar linebacker Junior Seau and Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey as notable former players diagnosed with CTE.

With concussions on the rise from the 2014 campaign to 2015, the issue hitting the silver screen with the movie Concussion and countless reports of former players being diagnosed with the disease, CTE is rapidly becoming associated with football—and the NFL in particular.


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