A report by congressional Democrats charging the NFL with tampering in the granting procedures of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has collapsed after revelations that nearly half of the NFL money already allocated by the federal agency went to the group the league supposedly sought to blackball.
The NFL points out that about $6 million, of the roughly $14 million already designated, funds research that involves the controversial Boston University group. This funding sparked no objections by the league. The NFL also issued a direct donation of $1 million to the BU group several years ago and features the co-director of the BU group, Dr. Robert Cantu, as a consultant to its Head, Neck, and Spine Committee lambasted in the report by Democrats on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
When the NIH sought to additionally use more than $16 million of the $30 million NFL grant on another BU project, figures associated with the league questioned the allocation primarily on the grounds that BU lacks experience in conducting the sort of longitudinal study requested by the NFL and because BU’s study concerns diagnosing CTE rather than understanding the causes and prevalence of degenerative brain disease among contact-sports athletes.
“We want to spend it on a prospective, longitudinal study,” a league source tells Breitbart Sports about why the NFL balked on bankrolling the study on diagnosing CTE in the living. “That’s not what we agreed to do.”
The NIH opted to fund the BU project with its own money. The NFL remains committed to allocating the full $30 million despite congressional Democrats and journalists implying that the league reneged on providing promised funds.
“The NFL attempted to use its ‘unrestricted gift’ as leverage to steer funding away from one of its critics,” the report by Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee claims.
“They wanted to look like the good guy, like they were giving money for this research,” Rep. Frank Pallone, under whose name the discredited report went out, told ESPN. “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.”
But when the NIH gave $6 million of the NFL’s money to BU, the league did not raise protest. Only when the NIH sought to give BU the bulk of the $30 million for a study at variance with the one agreed upon at a July 2013 NIH conference did the NFL voice its displeasure. And even then, the league offered $2 million (atop the $6 million already granted) to the BU group it supposedly seeks to punish.
“The nature of the concerns here was about the sort of work being done,” the league source tells Breitbart Sports, “not who was doing it.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell obliquely makes the case, citing a signed NIH document, that the federal agency reneged on an agreement with the league, not the reverse.
In a May 20 letter obtained by Breitbart Sports, Roger Goodell wrote Democratic Reps. Pallone, Diana Degette, Gene Green, and Jan Shakowsky that BU’s “proposed study was not to be a prospective longitudinal study as outlined in the Research Plan signed by representatives of NIH, FNIH, and the NFL in July 2014. That Research Plan, a copy of which is enclosed, had been shaped by the strong and broad consensus, at a July 2013 FNIH-hosted conference, supporting a large prospective longitudinal study as the appropriate next step in research to investigate the relationship between brain trauma and cognitive impairment.”
Goodell also noted a potential conflict of interest involved in the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health’s review committee awarding a grant to the BU group given that the committee’s chairperson, and three additional review committee members, worked on projects with investigators from the BU group in recent years.
Despite an appendix longer than the actual report, the House Democrats omitted Goodell’s letter from its 91-page document leaked to ESPN days later. The absence of such information that undermines the report’s conclusions, like its failure to even contact scientists criticized heavily in the document, brings those scrutinizing the NFL under scrutiny.
The office of the Democrats on the House Committee on Commerce and Energy did not respond to a request for comment from Breitbart Sports.
“The frustration here is that it’s been two years and there’s no longitudinal or cross-sectional study,” the league source points out. “We’ve been trying with the NIH for some period of time to fund a study that was in accord with the agreement at the NIH conference.”