NFL supports request to conduct 'thorough' review of NIH

The NFL announced Thursday it supports a request made by the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce to conduct "a thorough and objective review" of the National Institutes of Health following a congressional report released in May that accused the league of improperly trying to influence a NIH brain injury study grant review process.

In a statement, the league said it is looking forward to cooperating with the Office of the Inspector General in the review request made by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and other GOP leaders. The NFL also reiterated its $30 million research commitment to NIH.

In its review request letter, Republican leaders expressed concerns over how the NIH might have handled its public-private partnerships.

"Based on the information available to the Republican staff, however, there appear to be important questions and concerns related to these events that have not been adequately vetted or addressed," the letter states. "It appears that the NIH's actions may have contributed to the breakdown of the structures and processes that exist to preserve the integrity of NIH research."

A report released in May by Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. concluded, among other things, the NFL's leadership and 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.

Shortly after the report was released, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell denied that the NFL tried to influence the grant review process and said that the NIH ultimately was responsible for making decisions about its studies.

Here is the full NFL statement:

"We appreciate Chairman Upton requesting "a thorough and objective review" of the NIH. We look forward to cooperating with the Office of Inspector General, for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"The NFL has never wavered in its commitment to advance the science and understanding of concussions and traumatic brain injuries. The league's $30 million commitment to the FNIH/NIH was never in doubt and at no time -- as FNIH has confirmed -- did the NFL suggest that it would not fulfill that commitment to the last dollar. While there were concerns regarding the NIH's selection of research applicants, the NFL never suggested -- nor considered -- doing anything other than honoring that commitment in its entirety. It is unfortunate that the deployment of the remaining $16 million in research funds has been tied up in what the Committee's letter calls a 'distraction.'

"Important work has already begun as a result of the grant funding pledged by the league to the NIH. Two $6 million grants have been dedicated to studies of the long-term changes that occur in the brain after a head injury or multiple concussions -- Boston University School of Medicine and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs received $6 million for a study on CTE and post-traumatic neurodegeneration, and Mount Sinai Hospital received $6 million for a study on the neuropathology of CTE and Delayed Effects of TBI. The NFL grant has also funded six pilot projects totaling more than $2 million to provide support for the early stages of sports-related concussion projects."

Friday, the University of Washington, which conducted an investigation into Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, Chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Washington Medical Center, released a statement clearing Dr. Ellenbogen of any wrongdoing associated with the matter. Dr. Ellenbogen also serves as the co-chair of the NFL's Head, Neck and Spine Committee.

"Dr. Richard Ellenbogen is one of the foremost authorities and accomplished leaders in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of traumatic brain injuries. We commend Dr. Paul Ramsey, CEO of UW Medicine, Executive vice president for medical affairs and Dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Washington for executing a fair and balanced review of the congressional minority staff report.

"We are grateful to have Dr. Ellenbogen serve as co-chairman of the NFL's Head, Neck and Spine Committee, where he advises the league on the best care and safety measures possible for its players. He has helped drive nearly $100 million into research to advance the understanding of head trauma, including CTE. The resulting discoveries are making a tremendous impact on football players of all ages and ultimately on safety in all sports.

"Dr. Ellenbogen's leading priority is enacting protections to keep children safe. As Chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Washington Medical Center Member, he treated Zachary Lystedt for a severe brain injury suffered after returning to play during a game in which he had experienced an undiagnosed concussion. Afterward, Dr. Ellenbogen successfully advocated for enactment of strict return-to-play laws—known as the Lystedt Laws–in all 50 states. This law is a critical factor in helping to protect other young athletes from returning to play too soon after a concussion.

"A man of esteemed merit, Dr. Ellenbogen has selflessly dedicated his life to science and service. He is a physician on the front lines of this issue, every day working to advance the understanding, prevention and treatment of head injuries."

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