So does the NFL concede that there’s a link between football and CTE? The answer isn’t as clear as it could be, or should be.
NFL executive V.P. of player health and safety Jeff Miller recently told a Congressional committee that a link exists. Multiple owners have since questioned Miller’s remarks. But Commissioner Roger Goodell has said that Miller’s comments properly reflect the NFL’s position.
“We think the statements that have been made through Jeff Miller and others have been consistent with our position over the years,” Goodell said at the conclusion of the NFL’s annual meetings.
So what is the league’s position? NFL general counsel Jeff Pash recently addressed it in a memo sent to all team presidents and chief executives.
The March 17 memo, a copy of which PFT has obtained, initially provides the full context of Miller’s remarks at the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s “roundtable discussion” regarding concussions: “In the course of the dialogue, and following comments of doctors from Boston University, Jeff [Miller] was asked whether he thinks ‘there is a link between football and degenerative brain disorders, like CTE.’ In response, Jeff replied, ‘Well, certainly, Dr. McKee’s research shows that a number of retired NFL players were diagnosed with CTE. So, the answer to that question is certainly yes.’ Jeff went on to say that ‘the broader point . . . is what that necessarily means and where do we go from here with that information,’ noting that question of ‘incidence’ and ‘prevalence’ are best addressed by medical experts.”
Pash’s memo next says that “[n]otwithstanding how these comments have been characterized in the media, they are consistent with views that the league has previously expressed.” The memo then summarizes several points regarding the league’s position on the issue.
First, Pash’s memo explains that “the NFL has recognized for years that studies, including those done at Boston University, have identified retired players who were diagnosed with CTE following their deaths.” The memo notes that the league has helped fund Boston University’s research, and that “[t]here is nothing in Jeff [Miller’s] comment that is different from or that goes beyond those prior statements.”
Second, Pash’s memo points out that each NFL locker room has a poster regarding concussions, which explains that the failure to properly manage concussions places players at risk of long-term brain injuries.
Third, Pash’s memo points out much is still not known about CTE. Research regarding the condition is “in its infancy,” and studies identifying CTE in deceased football players “have been based on a largely self-selected population and those studies have appropriately recognized this selection bias.” This means, according to Pash’s memo, that “there is no reliable evidence on the incidence or prevalence of CTE, either in professional football players or in the general population,” adding that “[t]he current state of the science does not permit any reliable statement about what events make a person more at risk to develop CTE.” Pash’s memo also states that the “causal relationship between concussions and CTE is unknown,” and that scientists and researchers have concluded that “the speculation that repeated concussion or subconcussive impacts cause CTE remains unproven.” Also, Pash explains that current studies “do no control for genetic, environmental or other individual risk factors.”
Fourth, Pash’s memo explains that many cases of CTE “developed in the context of football as it was played decades ago,” and that the league’s knowledge regarding concussions “has grown considerably since then.”
To summarize, then, the league acknowledges that researchers have found CTE in football players, and that the league has taken steps to warn players about the potential connection between concussions and long-term brain injuty. But the league is not prepared to concede that football and CTE have a clear link without further research regarding the prevalence of CTE in the non-football-playing population and the potential impact of genetics, environment, and the risk factors.
So the league isn’t really admitting to anything concrete regarding a potential link between CTE and football, and the league doesn’t believe that Miller admitted to anything concrete regarding the link between CTE and football. Given the timing of the memo, its equivocal contents may help explain some of the confusing comments that multiple owners made the following week at the annual meetings.