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N.F.L. Tried to Influence Concussion Research, Congressional Study Finds


May. 23, 2016 New York Times

When the N.F.L. agreed in 2012 to donate tens of millions of dollars to concussion research overseen by the National Institutes of Health, it was widely seen as a positive turning point in football’s long history of playing down the long-term effects of brain injuries on players. At the time, the league said that it would have no influence over how the money was used.

But the league and its head, neck and spine committee worked to improperly influence the government research, trying to steer the study toward a doctor with ties to the league, according to a study conducted by a congressional committee and released on Monday.

“Our investigation has shown that while the N.F.L. had been publicly proclaiming its role as funder and accelerator of important research, it was privately attempting to influence that research,” the study concluded. “The N.F.L. attempted to use its ‘unrestricted gift’ as leverage to steer funding away from one of its critics.”

The N.F.L., in a statement, said it rejected the accusations laid out in the study, which was conducted by Democratic members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. “There is no dispute that there were concerns raised about both the nature of the study in question and possible conflicts of interest,” the league said. “These concerns were raised for review and consideration through the appropriate channels.”

It is the latest in a long history of instances in which the N.F.L. has been found to mismanage concussion research, dating to the league’s first exploration of the crisis when it used deeply flawed data to produce a series of studies.

In this case, some of the characters are the same, including Dr. Elliot Pellman, who led the league’s concussion committee for years before he was discredited for his questionable credentials and his role as a longtime denier of the effects of concussions on players.

Others are more recent members of the league’s concussion committee, like Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, co-chairman of the league’s committee on brain injuries. According to the congressional study, he bid on the research grant and then directly lobbied the National Institutes of Health to discredit the work of Dr. Robert Stern, the Boston University neurologist to whom it was awarded.

In the end, the N.I.H. did not receive the $16 million from the N.F.L. that it expected for Dr. Stern’s research, the study found. And Representative Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, who oversaw the study, accused the N.F.L. of trying to influence research that it promised to support without interference.

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