There are few things that get a corporation more nervous than when Congress starts investigating them. Even worse is when Congress condemns that corporation.
On Monday, a 91-page report from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce reported that the NFL attempted to exert undue influence on the National Institutes of Health for a researcher to direct a study regarding the potential for detecting CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) in living patients.
The allegation was first made back in March and the report explained how the committee believes the NFL pressured the NIH to take away the $16 million project from renowned Boston University researcher Robert Stern with a deep knowledge of CTE and attempted to redirect the funding to members of the NFL’s own brain injury research committee. Stern had been a vocal opponent of the NFL’s concussion policy and lack of admission that there was a link between playing football and CTE – a connection that some owners and top league officials still actively deny despite evidence to the contrary.
The study itself was part of what the NFL deemed an “unrestricted gift” that the NFL gave to the NIH following the end of the labor dispute between the league and the players association in 2012. It included more than $16 million to conduct the study in question, part of a $30 million donation from the league.
According to the report, when the NIH shot down the NFL’s request to remove Stern, the NFL refused to pay for the study – despite having a signed agreement in place with the NIH. The cost of the study ended up being funded by taxpayers.
The NIH has some significant safeguards in its mission statement and policies that prohibit private donors from having any impact on NIH peer-review studies and, according to the report, the NFL consistently attempted to persuade and fashion the research to reach conclusions with the NFL’s consistent public statements that there was no connection between CTE and playing football.
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce began investigatng the accusations of league impropriety in December, following a report on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that the NFL had reneged on its financial support of what was to be a seven-year study seeking to find ways of detecting CTE in living patients. To date, the only way to accurately determine the presence of CTE has been to study the brains of patients after they have died.
The report had several scathing indictments of the NFL. One stated that the NFL was informed that, if they backed out of the study, the cost would revert to taxpayers, prompting the NFL to offer a $2 million payment that was rejected by the NIH. It also stated that Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, who strongly opposed Stern’s selection of the researcher in charge of the study, applied for the same grant – despite being the co-chair of the NFL’s committee studying brain injuries and his research would clearly have come into question given his tight association with the league. Even after the selection of Stern, the report claims the NFL attempted to divert the $16 million pledged to the project to a different project that would have included the NFL’s brain injury committee.
The report cited testimony from Dr. Walter Koroshetz, who directs the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Koreshetz said he couldn’t remember a single instance of a private donor attempting to divert the grant process in such a strong manner as the NFL did in this case.
The Stern study, which includes 50 researchers representing some of the top medical institutions in the country, also has hundreds of former college and NFL players who will participate in the study. The process is officially expected to begin next week in Boston.
Hours after the public release of the report, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy denounced the allegations in a statement, which read, “The NFL rejects the allegations laid out in the Democratic Staff Report of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Committee.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/vikings/story/1669803-subscribe-today-member-be... “There is no dispute that there were concerns raised about both the nature of the study in question and possible conflicts of interest. These concerns were raised for review and consideration through the appropriate channels. Ultimately the funding decision was made by the FNIH/NIH, not the NFL, as the FNIH’s public statement of December 22, 2015 confirms. The nature of those conversations and a detailed account of the concerns were communicated in full to the committee members. It is deeply disappointing the authors of the Staff Report would make allegations directed at doctors affiliated with the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee without ever speaking to them.
“In 2012, the NFL committed $30 million to the NIH to advance the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of head injuries. To date, $12 million has been allocated for pathology studies through the Sports and Health Research Program (SHRP), two $6-million cooperative agreements dedicated to defining the long-term changes that occur in the brain after a head injury or multiple concussions: Boston University School of Medicine and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs received $6 million for a study on CTE and post-traumatic neurodegeneration, and Mount Sinai Hospital received $6 million for a study on the neuropathology of CTE and Delayed Effects of TBI.
“The NFL is deeply committed to continuing to accelerate scientific research and advancements in this critical area, and we stand ready to support additional independent research to that end.”
It is unclear whether the NFL can be held liable by Congress for the appearance of impropriety or whether the signed contract for the $30 million pledge is enforceable.