Investigation: NFL 'acted improperly' in attempt to sway concussion study

Investigation: NFL 'acted improperly' in attempt to sway concussion study
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Senior health officials at the NFL improperly tried to intervene in a government study into the risks of brain injury from football, according to a report by congressional investigators released Monday.

At least a half-dozen NFL officials tried to change the direction of a study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which was funded by a $30 million donation from the football league.

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“While the NFL had been publicly proclaiming its role as funder and accelerator of important research, it was privately attempting to influence that research,” the Democratic-led investigation within the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote in its report.

The 91-page report demonstrated for the first time the extent of the NFL’s involvement in trying to remove a prominent Boston University researcher — who had been critical of the NFL — from the concussion study.

"This investigation confirms the NFL inappropriately attempted to use its unrestricted gift as leverage to steer funding away from one of its critics," said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the committee.

"The NFL rejects the allegations laid out in the Democratic Staff Report of the House Energy and Commerce Committee," the league said in a statement.

"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. ... 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."

Congressional investigators have spent nearly six months examining the football industry’s attempt to influence the NIH study, first reported by ESPN in December 2015.

In the report, investigators said the NFL’s behavior fit “a longstanding pattern of attempts to influence the scientific understanding of the consequences of repeated head trauma,” dating back to a now-debunked panel in the 1990s that also sought to control the scientific narrative on concussions.

The NFL has not yet released a statement on the findings.

The football league has attempted to address concussions, as a growing number of players have suffered from memory and cognitive issues. 

Its previous attempts to produce research on the issue have also been debunked; a New York Times investigation in March 2016 found the NFL used incomplete data that made concussions appear less frequent than they actually were.

— Updated 9:10 p.m.