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House Report: NFL attempted to influence brain injury study

A report issued Monday by a senior House Democrat alleges that the NFL "improperly attempted to influence the grant review process for a National Institutes of Health (NIH) brain injury study that the NFL had agreed to fund as part of a $30 million donation."

New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone, who wrote the report, concluded that, among other things, the league's leadership and their medical advisors were inconsistent with their stated commitment to support science and medicine. In addition, Pallone wrote the Foundation for NIH (FNIH) did not fulfill its role of acting as an intermediary between the NFL and the NIH. The findings were the result of an ESPN report alleging the NFL backed out of funding a study by the NIH based on its objections of bias surrounding the Boston University grantee selected by the NIH to conduct the study.

"This investigation confirms the NFL inappropriately attempted to use its unrestricted gift as leverage to steer funding away from one of its critics," Pallone said in a release. "Since its research agreement with NIH was clear that it could not weigh in on the grant selection process, the NFL should never have tried to influence that process.

"The NFL's troublesome interactions with NIH fit a longstanding pattern of attempts to influence the scientific understanding of degenerative diseases and sports-related head trauma. The NFL must recognize the importance of this ongoing, impartial research, and live up to its funding commitments to NIH," Pallone said.

In a statement provided to NFL Media, league spokesman Brian McCarthy wrote, "the NFL rejects the allegations laid out in the Democratic Staff Report of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

"There is no dispute that there were concerns raised about both the nature of the study in question and possible conflicts of interest," McCarthy continued. "These concerns were raised for review and consideration through the appropriate channels. Ultimately the funding decision was made by the FNIH/NIH, not the NFL, as the FNIH's public statement of December 22, 2015, confirms. The nature of those conversations and a detailed account of the concerns were communicated in full to the committee members. 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."

The NFL has committed $30 million to the NIH to "advance the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of head injuries," McCarthy said. Since 2012, $12 million from the league has been allocated toward pathology studies through the Sports and Health Research Program. The funded research includes studies on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the neuropathology of CTE, post-traumatic neurodegeneration and the delayed effects of traumatic brain injuries.

"The NFL is deeply committed to continuing to accelerate scientific research and advancements in this critical area, and we stand ready to support additional independent research to that end," McCarthy wrote.

NFL Media has reached out to the office of Rep. Fred Upton (R) -- chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee -- but has yet to receive comment on Pallone's report.

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