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With concussions and CTE all over the media, and even on the big screen, the pressure was on the NFL to take responsibility. Now one top NFL official has bitten the bullet and admitted that scientific studies show a link between football and brain injury.
Jeff Miller, the NFL’s Executive Vice President for health and safety, was called to testify on March 15, 2016, at a round-table discussion on concussions before the House Committee on Energy & Commerce. At issue: whether a link exists between head trauma in American football and the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
The round-table came as part of the Brain Injury Association of America‘s Brain Injury Awareness Summit. As congressmen and advocates came together, the issue of traumatic brain injury was playing in the media. Scientists and researchers released opinions suggesting OJ Simpson, and even Henry VIII, suffered from CTE, explaining their behavior. In the public eye, Will Smith brought the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu of the University of Pennsylvania, to the big screen.
Until now, the NFL has refused to accept any responsibility for its players’ CTE. According to RTT News, Neurosurgeon Mitch Berger, chair of the NFL’s subcommittee on long-term brain injury, has said there is no point to prove that American football and CTE are related.
But when called to testify at the House round-table, Jeff Miller took a different position. When asked if a doctor had shown a connection between football hits and CTE, he answered, “certainly yes.” In particular, he cited Dr. Ann McKee, a Boston University neuropathologist. She found CTE in the brains of 90 former NFL players. Miller told the round-table:
“Well certainly Dr. McKee’s research shows that a number of retired NFL players were diagnosed with CTE, so the answer to that question is certainly yes but there’s also a number of questions that come with that.”
But NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy later backpedaled from Miller’s admission.
“He was discussing Dr. McKee’s findings and made the additional point that a lot more questions need to be answered. . . . He said that the experts should speak to the state of the science. . . . We want the facts, so we can develop better solutions. . . . We know the answers will come as this field of study continues to advance.”
That backpedaling is likely connected to an ongoing class action lawsuit including 5,000 former players, claiming the NFL hid the risk of injury from them. NFL attorney Paul Clement claims Miller’s statements have no bearing on the pending appeal, but it is clear the statements contradict the NFL’s position in the trial court.
The effect of the NFL’s behavior will certainly have to play out in court. But all the attention, in the scientific community, in Congress, and on the big screen, certainly heighten brain injury awareness. This allows football moms and dads to make better, informed decisions regarding the health of their children.