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By On March 15th, 2016

Senior NFL Official Acknowledges Link Between Football And CTE For The First Time

After years of controversy, litigation, and horrific deaths, a senior official from the NFL has finally acknowledged the connection between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) for the first time.

The NFL’s senior vice president of health and safety, Jeff Miller, admitted that a link exists between the two during a roundtable discussion on the issue of football-related head trauma on Monday. The roundtable was organized by the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Source: Craig ONeal

Source: Craig ONeal

During the event, Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill) directly asked Miller whether he believed there was a link between football and degenerative brain disorders such as CTE. In response, Miller said, “The answer to that question is certainly yes.” He then cited recent research from Dr. Ann McKee, a noted brain injury specialist, which found evidence of CTE in 90 of the 94 brains of deceased NFL players. The study also found CTE in 45 of 55 college players, and six of the 26 high-school students.

This acknowledgement of the link between the sport and neurodegenerative brain disease is a start contrast to comments from Dr. Mitch Berger, a member of the NFL’s Head, Neck & Spine Committee, earlier this year. During a press event leading up to this year’s Super Bowl, Berger emphatically stated there was no link between CTE and football. He also said CTE could be found in the brains of people from all walks of life – a technically true but highly misleading statement.

“There’s no question that you can find degenerative changes that are indicative of CTE in individuals who have played football,” Berger told the Toronto Star. However, he said the tau proteins that form in the brains of people with CTE could be found in brains of people with a wide variety of brain trauma. “Whether it’s from football, whether it’s from car accidents, gunshot wounds, domestic violence, remains to be seen,” Berger stated.

The acknowledgement from a senior league official is the first public acknowledgement from the NFL of the findings which strongly implicate collisions during football practice and competition with CTE. But, Miller did pull back a bit, insisting there are “a number of questions that come with that.” When pressed on whether the link between football and CTE exists, however, Miller did agree.

This is still not a formal acknowledgement of the issue from the NFL and the league has not released an official comment on the matter, but the NFL’s website has reported on Miller’s statement. The site is typically quiet on brain injury issues in football.

There could also be legal implications from Miller’s acknowledgement. A lawyer representing seven players objecting to a settlement proposed by the NFL in a concussion lawsuit including hundreds of former players has already sent a letter to the Third Court of Appeals bringing up Miller’s comments. ESPN reports the letter says the league has performed a “stark turn” on its previous stance on CTE, and the proposed settlement does not properly account for this new information.

4 Responses

  1. James D. says:

    This is a huge announcement and one I have to say I’m happy to see come out. As a survivor of a TBI in 2011, I understand what a massive impact these injuries can have on a person and it’s something I struggle with daily. My memory is spotty, my emotions are often out of whack, and my ability to process simple instructions is challenged. It has a huge impact on a person’s life and while these athletes choose to play the sport at the professional level, the impact of consistent blows is not something to be taken lightly.

  2. I agree with you James. It’s a healthy step that the NFL’s Jeff Miller spoke candidly, although I can’t image NFL team owners are all that happy about it. As a TBI survivor myself from an auto accident, I strongly support all of us working together to reduce the number of traumatic brain injuries of all kinds. The consequences of TBI are hard for many people to relate to unless it’s happened to someone close to them.

  3. The NFL also announced in November that they’re awarding more than $35 million to find 5 organizations researching the diagnosis and treatment of brain injuries. The largest portion of $14.6mm of the funding is going to Boston’s Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School for their study of former NFL players. It looks like the NFL is really committed to understanding concussions and associated conditions. Hopefully this will end up helping to reduce player TBI injuries. It’ll probably help mitigate the NFL’s legal liability for player injuries as well.

  4. Brain Injury says:

    It’s taken a while to get traction, but it appears the NFL is now doing some great work to research TBI for football players. They have since provided major funding for several large brain injury research projects. It seems likely they are trying to get ahead of new work regulations and/or player injury liability lawsuits.

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