NFL Concussions

A few years ago the NFL gave an unrestricted $30 million gift/donation to the NIH in order to fund research of the sport and its relation to brain damage, hoping to diagnose CTE in living patients. Turns out that unrestricted isn’t exactly what you thought it means.

What is CTE? A progressive degenerative disease found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as sub-concussive hits to the head that do not cause symptoms. It has been commonly found in professional athletes participating in American football but also other heavy contact sports. Individuals with CTE may show symptoms of dementia, such as memory loss, aggression, confusion and depression, which generally appear years or many decades after the trauma.

The whole basis of the $30 million gift to the NIH (National Institutes of Health) was to fund further research into football’s relationship to brain damage, and to hopefully discover a way to diagnose CTE in living patients. It was published as unrestricted by the NFL in 2012, which means the league wouldn’t interfere in how it was used and by which researchers. But as the OTL report shows, the NFL backed away from a $16 million study because of the doctor leading it.

According to sources within the NIH, the NFL retained veto power over which projects would be funded and when the NFL learned that Robert Stern of Boston University, a professor of neurology and neurosurgery, would be the leading researcher of this specific CTE study, it pretty much stopped it, raising concerns about Stern’s objectivity. Why isn’t he objective? Because Stern was critical of the $765 million class-action settlement that the league paid to retired players dealing with the effects of head trauma, suggesting that many deceased NFL players who were found to have had CTE wouldn’t have gotten any money from the settlement because they didn’t exhibit any of the specific symptoms that the settlement covered.

The league is saying it didn’t pull any money out of a project – which is technically true. It simply exercised veto power over how the money would be used, despite the key word: Unrestricted. The league has often bragged about this donation to prove how serious it is when it comes to discovering ways to diagnose and hopefully prevent CTE, but as it turns out, covering up and shielding for much more sinister findings is the most important thing to this league. The NFL prefers paying a proven quack doctor to try and disprove football’s connection to brain trauma.