A bombshell report released Monday by Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee implicates top NFL officials in an attempt to influence a study on brain injury research conducted by the National Institutes of Health.
Central to the investigation is a $30 million "unrestricted" donation the NFL gave the NIH in 2012, $16 million of which was flagged in 2014 to fund research into chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a debilitating brain disease associated with repeated head trauma that's been found in many retired NFL players.
After the NIH selected Boston University researcher Dr. Robert Stern to lead the study, however, the NFL balked and pulled its funding, forcing taxpayers to pay for the study instead, the report shows. The league later offered $2 million to help fund the study. The NIH declined the contribution, opting to cover the entirety of the costs itself.
Unnamed sources told ESPN's Outside the Lines the league objected to Stern, who has been critical of the NFL in the past, over concerns he might be biased against the league.
Not only does the 91-page congressional inquiry released Monday disagree with the NFL's concern about a biased study, it suggests the opposite is true. The NFL attempted to influence the NIH, not the other way around:
The NFL’s interactions with NIH and approach to funding the BU study fit a longstanding pattern of attempts to influence the scientific understanding of the consequences of repeated head trauma. These efforts date back to the formation of the NFL’s now-discredited [Mild Traumatic Brain Injury] Committee, which attempted to control the scientific narrative around concussions in the 1990s.
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 NFL attempted to use its “unrestricted gift” as leverage to steer funding away from one of its critics.
"They wanted to look like the good guy, like they were giving money for this research," Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) told ESPN's Outside The Lines, which first obtained the report. Pallone is the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
"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," Pallone continued.
The NFL flatly denies any attempt to sway the NIH. Regarding the pulled funding for the BU study, league spokesman Brian McCarthy told The New York Times the NFL has no "veto power" over how the $30 million grant is used and that "the NIH makes all funding decisions."
McCarthy's tenor was no different Monday in response to the congressional report.
"We are reviewing the report but categorically reject any suggestion of improper influence," he told NBC Sports.
Read the full report below: