Head of players' union slams NFL over congressional report alleging the league tried to tamper with concussion research

ESPN’s Outside the Lines brotherly investigative duo, Steve and Mark Fainaru, on Monday published the damning findings from a recent congressional report that alleged the NFL “waged an improper, behind-the-scenes campaign” against a government-backed concussion research study to which it had pledged $16 million.

In response, NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith put the NFL on blast, saying the league does not have a commitment to player safety.

“This is one of the most troubling and disturbing reports that I have seen. I wish that I could say that I was surprised, but the league has a history of being bullies,” Smith said in a Monday morning appearance on ESPN.

He continued:

Today, hearing that report from Capitol Hill just reaffirms the fact that the league had its own view about how they care about the players of the National Football League. Thankfully we have a union that fights them. But now everybody now knows that the league really doesn’t believe in following the science. The league doesn’t really have a commitment to the health and safety of our players.

According to Outside the Lines, after the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded the NFL’s $16 million pledge to concussion research to Dr. Robert Stern, a prominent Boston University researcher whom the NFL did not favour because of his past research, the league tried to pressure the NIH to divert the money to a different project.

When the NIH turned down this proposal, according to the congressional report, the NFL backed out of the agreement to pay for the study, and tax-payer money ended up fronting the cost.

From ESPN:

The NFL’s actions violated policies that prohibit private donors from interfering in the NIH peer-review process, the report concludes, and were part of a “long-standing pattern of attempts” by the league to shape concussion research for its own purposes.

“In this instance, our investigation has shown that 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 report states.

The report is particularly critical of Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, the co-chairman of the NFL’s committee on brain injuries. According to ESPN, Ellenbogen was a major adversary of the Boston University study. He had also reportedly applied for the same $16 million funding that Stern ultimately received.

From the report (via ESPN):

“Dr. Ellenbogen is a primary example of the conflicts of interest between his role as a researcher and his role as an NFL adviser,” the report states. “He had been part of a group that applied for the $16 million grant. After his group was not selected, Dr. Ellenbogen became one of the NFL’s primary advocates in expressing concerns surrounding the process with the BU grant selection. … This series of events raises significant questions about Dr. Ellenbogen’s own bias.”

The NFL offered no comment when asked by ESPN, saying they had yet to read the report. The NFL did not respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.

Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, offered perhaps the most damning summary of the entire incident.

“They wanted to look like the good guy, like they were giving money for this research,” Pallone said of the NFL. “But as soon as they found out that it might be somebody who they don’t like who’s doing the research, they were reneging on their commitment, essentially.”

You can read the entire OTL report over at ESPN.

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