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Online NFL odds probably shifted when congressional investigators reported that six or more NFL health officials illegally colluded to influence the outcomes of a U.S. government-sponsored research on brain disease and football last year. The report gives details about the $16 million stripped from the National Institutes of Health by the NFL to give members of NFL committee on brain injuries. A $30 million “unrestricted gift” given to NIH by the NFL funded the study based at Boston University.

Taxpayers eventually paid for the study after NFL refused to fund it one the NIH rejected the decision by the NFL to fire Robert Stern, a neurodegenerative disease expert. Investigators in the 91-page report stated that the NFL had ulterior motives pointing towards influencing the research study instead of their public announcement to fund it. The NFL abandoned a 7-year study aiming to examine ways of detecting causes of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which commonly affect NFL players.

With the impending outcome that taxpayers would fund the $16 million project if they backed out, the NFL tried to offer the NIH with $2 million as a partial contribution, but the NIH rejected it. The bold move by the NHL to channel the funds to their brain injury committee would make them evade the strict peer-review process by the NIH. On the other hand, the NIH rejected the allegation that Stern’s emails and phone calls reflected biasness because he had to deal with a conflict of interest about a grant reviewer appearing on a scientific paper together with his coworkers.

The report provides five-page research plan showing that in July 2014, NFL officials approved the objectives of the CTE study by signing a deal to fund it with $16,325,242. The NFL, the NIH, and the Foundation for the NIH (FNIH) raised money for the study. However, the FNIH did not perform its role of preserving the NIH’s impartiality as the largest biomedical institution in the U.S., which led to the NFL disregarding the permitted communication protocols. As such, it made it easier for the NFL to try influencing the selection of grant recipients and eventually abandoning its duty to fund the study. However, on Monday, the FNIH could not comment immediately.

In spring 2015, the NIH notified Stern about the selection of his group. Since Outside the Lines was the first to have the report, they had formerly reported that Kevin Guskiewicz, the chair of the NFL’s Subcommittee on Safety Equipment and Playing Rules led three other advisers to make an opposing proposal for the grant.

Dr. Elliot Pellman, the NFL medical director emailed FNIH executive director, Dr. Maria Freire on June 17 to claim that she suspected the NFL had the best interests towards the research study and asked Freire to delay the process until further notice.

The news spread to Koroshetz after Freire forwarded her the email. The next day, Koroshetz replied saying that the problem lies with the mistrust between NFL owners and Stern due to the historical scientific experiments previously done by Stern. Later, Dr. Betsy Nabel, the NFL's chief health and medical adviser emailed a 61-page affidavit directly to Koroshetz. Stern had sworn to support players opposing a 2014 class action court case settlement against the NFL.

The FNIH brought together the NFL and the NIH on a conference call so that they could discuss the complaints by the NFL. The NFL complained about the purported bias by Stern as well as his alleged conflict of interest. Afterwards, Koroshetz claimed that Ellenbogen dialed her to express her dissatisfaction of with NFL to fund the BU study due to Dr. Stern’s bias. However,

Ellenbogen had previously stated that he did not influence the funding of the study and denied knowing Stern.

Dr. Ellenborg is one of the main players criticized by the congressional report for prevailing as an NFL rep and a grant applicant. The bias and conflict of interest arises from his participation as one of the applicants for the $16 million grant and as one of the main advisers of the NFL about the grant after he was not selected. 

The NIH had a difficult time in the course of last fall ascertaining NFL’s credibility to fund the BU study. On Oct. 19, Freire emailed Miller expressing her concerns about the need for the NIH to know if the NFL would honor the initial agreement to fund the CTE project. She later emailed her concerns about the difficult budgetary situation that the NIH was experiencing due to NFL’s misdemeanor, which would render them powerless to fund other estimable research in future.

The ultimate suggestion made by Freire is that the NFL should commit their funding for the first year with the intention of dampen their critics. However, over six weeks elapsed without a word from the NFL. Days prior to the public announcement of the study in December, the NFL seemed to take Freire’s advice and presented $2 million funding as stated by Miller. However, the NFL continue with their mission to redirect the rest of the funding to its researchers.

An ex-NIH researcher, Dr. Russell Lonser, wanted to influence the channeling of the $16 million for another research study managed by NFL advisers as before with a plan to avoid the peer-review process by the NIH. Even though the congressional report congratulates the management of the NIH for standing up to the scientific integrity of the project as well as the review process, the investigators also argue that the NIH accommodated NFL for so long.

With the NIH, the NFL, and the FNIH to receive the report soon, the recommendation clearly states that they should all restructure their prevailing agreement to accommodate the interests of the project without any bias for the rest of their partnership. The implementation of such recommendations will be closed monitored by the congressional committee including the appropriate communication protocol and the establishment of flawless procedures.

The official launch of the Stern study will take place in Boston next week after seventeen institutions produced fifty researchers to participate in the project. Pallone stated that NFL players would start losing trust in the NFL management team because their actions seems harmful to them. His desire was that the congressional report will push for major changes because, historically, NFL management act appropriately after being caught.


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