NFL allocates more than $17 million to fund research into concussions and brain health
By MARK MASKE | The Washington Post | Published: January 5, 2018
The NFL has reallocated more than $17 million of funding for research into concussions and the effects of brain injuries after a dispute last year related to funding for research by the National Institutes of Health.
The funding now will be divided among research done by the Department of Defense, TRACK-TBI (a study funded by NIH) and the National Institute of Aging, a branch of NIH, according to the NFL.
"We know this is the type of work we need to better our understanding of these diseases," Allen Sills, the league's chief medical officer, said by phone Friday. "These contributions are certainly going to result in improved understanding."
The NFL's contribution includes $7.65 million each to the Department of Defense and TRACK-TBI (Transforming Research and Clinical Knowledge in Traumatic Brain Injury) and $2.25 million to the National Institute of Aging, according to the league.
"These research initiatives represent important scientific projects, with proven track records of achievement that affect public health," the NFL said in a written statement. "Each of these research programs receives substantial federal funding. Through this commitment, the League hopes to advance the understanding of concussion and other brain injuries, especially among athletes and veterans."
The new funding commitments come after the NFL was involved in controversy and scrutinized by members of Congress over a previous commitment to NIH research.
Under a 2012 agreement, the NFL was to provide $30 million to support NIH research into brain injuries and other medical conditions affecting athletes through the Sports Health and Research Program.
That agreement with the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health expired last August. Last July, just before the expiration, Democratic members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce wrote a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell asking whether the league intended to fulfill its commitment. The lawmakers said there remained $18 million of that pledged commitment that had not been provided to research projects.
Most of that was attributable to a $16.3 million funding commitment by the NFL to a $17.5 million study by Boston University researcher Robert Stern that instead was funded by NIH. A 2016 study by Democratic members of the same House committee alleged that the league and its head, neck and spine committee tried to influence that study by attempting to steer the research to someone with ties to the NFL. The league denied the accusations, saying it raised concerns appropriately and through proper channels.
The NFL told the House committee last summer that it intended to honor its funding commitment.
"We felt there was some erroneous reporting there," Jeff Miller, the NFL's executive vice president of health and safety, said by phone Friday. "We feel good about where the money is going now. The point of all of this is the money is going to be spent to advance science."
The league's contribution to the Department of Defense is to aid the Concussion Assessment Research and Education, or CARE, Consortium Grand Alliance, created with the NCAA in 2014; the program monitors athletes at 30 universities for concussions. The NFL's contribution also will go to a program at the service academies collecting information on concussions suffered by all cadets.
The TRACK-TBI study, funded by NIH, collects information on patients with head injuries at 18 sites nationwide. The study currently encompasses more than 2,300 patients.
The NFL's contribution to the National Institute of Aging is to support research into cognitive aging and dementia. The NFL said in its written statement that its "grant will be unrestricted for the use of the NIA to support the Institute's scientific research on dementia and cognitive function. The grant amount to the NIA combines funds that were being held by the FNIH and then redirected at the NFL's request as well as an additional $1 million contribution to the NIA."
Sills said: "Concussion is not just an NFL problem. It's not just a football problem. It's not just a sports problem."