NFL executive Jeff Miller acknowledged a link between football-related head trauma and the brain disease CTE during a congressional committee roundtable on Monday.
Miller, the NFL's executive vice president for health and safety, was asked if a doctor's research showed a connection between hits in football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. His answer was "certainly yes."
Miller appeared at a roundtable discussion on concussions before the House Committee on Energy & Commerce and cited the work of Boston University neuropathologist Dr. Ann McKee. She has found CTE in the brains of 90 former pro football players.
"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," said Miller, when replying to a question by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois). "...You asked the question whether I thought there was a link, and certainly based on Dr. McKee's research there's a link because she's found CTE in a number of retired football players.
"I think that the broader point, and one your question gets to, is what that necessarily means and where do we go from here with that information?" Miller continued. "And so when we talk about a link or about incidents or prevalence ... for the record I'm not a medical physician, so I feel limited in answering much more than that."
The league later issued a statement, via USA Today, following Miller's remarks.
"He was discussing Dr. McKee's findings and made the additional point that a lot more questions need to be answered," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. "He said that the experts should speak to the state of the science."
"We want the facts, so we can develop better solutions," McCarthy added, per USA Today. "And that's why we're deeply committed to advancing medical research on head trauma, including CTE, to let the science go where the science goes. We know the answers will come as this field of study continues to advance."
An attorney representing a handful of retired players who are part of an appeal of a concussion settlement with the league approved by a judge last April, characterized Miller's statement as contradicting the NFL's previous positions in the case.
"The NFL's comments further signal the NFL's acceptance of Dr. McKee's conclusions regarding CTE -- a stark turn from its position before the district court, which relied on the NFL's experts to dismiss the significance of that same research," Steven Molo wrote in a two-page letter to the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia on Tuesday.
In a letter also filed Tuesday with the court, NFL attorney Paul Clement wrote: "Mr. Miller's remarks have no bearing on the pending appeal, and Mr. Molo's letter raises nothing new, pertinent, or authoritative."
Clement also stated "the NFL has previously acknowledged studies identifying a potential association between CTE and certain football players, including Dr. McKee's work, to which the NFL has contributed funding.
"Conspicuously omitted from Mr. Molo's letter is any reference to either Mr. Miller's comments on the limited knowledge of the 'incidence or the prevalence' of CTE or the district court's express finding that the scientific community indisputably acknowledges that the causes of CTE remain unknown and the subject of extensive medical and scientific research."
CTE can only be detected after death. Among the players found to have CTE in their brains was Hall of Famer Junior Seau.
ESPN first reported the story.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.