Congressional investigators are accusing NFL officials of improperly influencing a government research study on the link between concussions and brain disease due to game-related injuries.
A 91-page congressional report found that at least six high-ranking NFL officials pressured the National Institutes of Health to strip $16 million from a project led by Robert Stern, a prominent Boston University researcher who studies brain injuries and has been critical of the league, reported ESPN. The study was going to be funded by a $30 million "unrestricted gift" the NFL gave the NIH in 2012.
After the NIH refused to remove Stern, the NFL backed out of a signed agreement to pay for the study, according to the report. The study was eventually funded through taxpayer dollars.
"This investigation confirms the NFL inappropriately attempted to use its unrestricted gift as leverage to steer funding away from one of its critics," said Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, reported the Chicago Tribune. "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."
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The NFL, meanwhile, denies the report.
"We are reviewing the report but categorically reject any suggestion of improper influence," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Monday.
In addition to allegedly trying to influence a scientific study, the report found the chairman of the NFL's committee on brain injuries, Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, was one of the league's "primary advocates" opposing Stern. But Ellenbogen had applied for the same grant and could have personally benefited if he succeeded in ousting Stern, reported ESPN.
"Once you get anybody who's heavily involved with the NFL trying to influence what kind of research takes place, you break that chain that guarantees the integrity, and that's what I think is so crucial here," Pallone told ESPN. "Fortunately, the NIH didn't take the bait. It shouldn't be a rigged game. If it is, then people won't really know whether what we're finding through this research is accurate."