After years of controversy, litigation, and horrific deaths, a senior official from the NFL has finally acknowledged the connection between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) for the first time.
The NFL’s senior vice president of health and safety, Jeff Miller, admitted that a link exists between the two during a roundtable discussion on the issue of football-related head trauma on Monday. The roundtable was organized by the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Energy and Commerce.
During the event, Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill) directly asked Miller whether he believed there was a link between football and degenerative brain disorders such as CTE. In response, Miller said, “The answer to that question is certainly yes.” He then cited recent research from Dr. Ann McKee, a noted brain injury specialist, which found evidence of CTE in 90 of the 94 brains of deceased NFL players. The study also found CTE in 45 of 55 college players, and six of the 26 high-school students.
This acknowledgement of the link between the sport and neurodegenerative brain disease is a start contrast to comments from Dr. Mitch Berger, a member of the NFL’s Head, Neck & Spine Committee, earlier this year. During a press event leading up to this year’s Super Bowl, Berger emphatically stated there was no link between CTE and football. He also said CTE could be found in the brains of people from all walks of life – a technically true but highly misleading statement.
“There’s no question that you can find degenerative changes that are indicative of CTE in individuals who have played football,” Berger told the Toronto Star. However, he said the tau proteins that form in the brains of people with CTE could be found in brains of people with a wide variety of brain trauma. “Whether it’s from football, whether it’s from car accidents, gunshot wounds, domestic violence, remains to be seen,” Berger stated.
The acknowledgement from a senior league official is the first public acknowledgement from the NFL of the findings which strongly implicate collisions during football practice and competition with CTE. But, Miller did pull back a bit, insisting there are “a number of questions that come with that.” When pressed on whether the link between football and CTE exists, however, Miller did agree.
This is still not a formal acknowledgement of the issue from the NFL and the league has not released an official comment on the matter, but the NFL’s website has reported on Miller’s statement. The site is typically quiet on brain injury issues in football.
There could also be legal implications from Miller’s acknowledgement. A lawyer representing seven players objecting to a settlement proposed by the NFL in a concussion lawsuit including hundreds of former players has already sent a letter to the Third Court of Appeals bringing up Miller’s comments. ESPN reports the letter says the league has performed a “stark turn” on its previous stance on CTE, and the proposed settlement does not properly account for this new information.