NFL meddling in NIH researcher selection?

This is a timely topic since there are some important football games today and it’s almost the superbowl. Last year the NFL donated¬†$30million to the NIH for brain research on the impacts of football. Very necessary since a) there’s a lot of evidence linking brain injury to football and b) the league has been under scrutiny lately because of this. However, it seems as though the NFL may be trying to influence the type of research being conducted.¬†ESPN reports:

Three of the NFL’s top health and safety officers confronted the National Institutes of Health last June after the NIH selected a Boston University researcher to lead a major study on football and brain disease, Outside the Lines has learned.

The new information contradicts denials by the NFL and a foundation it partners with that the league had any involvement or input in the fate of a $16 million study to find methods to diagnose — in living patients — chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease found in dozens of deceased NFL players.

Outside the Lines reported in December that the NFL, which in 2012 promised an “unrestricted” $30 million gift to the NIH for brain research, backed out of funding the new study over concerns about the lead researcher, Boston University’s Dr. Robert Stern, who has been critical of the league. In the story, a senior NIH official said that the NFL retained veto power over projects it might fund with its donation, and it effectively used that power in the Stern study. Almost immediately, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy deemed the report “inaccurate.” The league and the foundation both said the league’s overall donation comes with no strings attached.

But Dr. Walter Koroshetz, director of the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke, told Outside the Lines this week that the NFL raised several concerns about Stern’s selection during a June conference call that included Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety; Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, co-chairman of the Head, Neck and Spine Committee; and Dr. Mitch Berger, chairman of the sub-committee on the long-term effects of brain and spine injury.

The NFL alleged that the review process that led to Stern’s selection was marred by conflicts of interest, Koroshetz said. In addition, league officials charged that Stern was biased because he had filed an affidavit opposing the settlement of a lawsuit in which thousands of former players accused the NFL of hiding the link between football and brain damage.

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