Dems fret over NFL's 'veto power' on medical research

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A group of House Democrats on Thursday wrote to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) expressing concern about possible “veto power” that the NFL exercised over a study on a brain disease. 

The group of House Democrats cited an article from ESPN last month reporting that the NFL backed out of funding an NIH study on the brain disease, known as CTE, after it was awarded to a Boston University researcher who has criticized the NFL in the past. ESPN used the phrase “veto power” for the NFL's hold over NIH projects that it funds. 

The letter is written by Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees NIH, as well as Democratic Reps. Gene GreenGene GreenHouse Dems call for NHL to reduce head injuries Top Dem: Cures bill funding cut to B Lawmakers pledge push for cures bill in lame-duck MORE (Texas), Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) and Diana DeGette (Colo.). 

“We are concerned about the potential implications of outside entities attempting to exercise ‘veto power’ or other influence over the selection of NIH research applicants, and we therefore seek to better understand the role the NFL has played in the allocation and administration of its $30 million ‘unrestricted’ donation,'” the lawmakers write. 

The lawmakers note that the NFL has disputed ESPN’s account, saying that it did not pull funding and that it had no “veto power.”

Given the “various conflicting accounts,” the lawmakers say that they want more information. They are asking for documents including any agreements between the NFL and NIH and any communications between the two organizations. 

Boston University describes CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, as leading to symptoms including memory loss and eventually dementia and notes that the disease has been found “in retired professional football players and other athletes who have a history of repetitive brain trauma.”

The NFL has been under increasing scrutiny for its handling of concussions and other brain injuries. 

Separately, last month the Republican leadership of the Energy and Commerce Committee announced a broad review coming in 2016 seeking to improve understanding of concussions in areas including sports and the military.