For first time, NFL says there's 'certainly' a link between football and CTE

'The answer to that question is certainly yes,' official says

A top National Football League (NFL) official on Monday conceded that there is a link between football-related head injuries and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)—the first time the NFL has acknowledged the connection.

Researchers believe that CTE is caused by repetitive trauma to the head, and that the damage from subconcussive blows can accumulate over time. CTE can lead to conditions such as memory loss, depression, and dementia.

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Skirting the question

Previously, the NFL has responded vaguely to questions about the link between football-related head trauma and CTE, Des Bieler reports for the Washington Post's "Early Lead."

In 2012, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told Time, "It doesn't take a lot to jump to the conclusion that constant banging in the head is not going to be in your best interest."

Before this year's Super Bowl, Mitch Berger, a member of the NFL's Head, Neck and Spine Committee, denied that a clear link existed, noting that the protein found in brains with CTE can also be found in patients with a range of "traumatic injuries."

Acknowledging a link

However, when asked Monday by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) whether he thinks there is a link between football and conditions like CTE, Jeff Miller—the NFL's SVP for health and safety—replied, "The answer to that question is certainly yes."

Miller made the comments during a House Energy and Commerce Committee roundtable discussion about concussions.

He attributed his assessment to research from Ann McKee, a professor of neurology and pathology at Boston University, who has diagnosed CTE in more than 100 football players—including professionals, college players, and high school students.

McKee, who spoke before Miller at the roundtable, said, "We've seen [CTE] in 90 out of 94 NFL players whose brains we've examined, we've found it in 45 out of 55 college players and 26 out of 65 high school players." She predicted, "I think we are going to be surprised at how common it is."

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After agreeing with McKee's assessment, Miller said there are many questions still left unanswered. "I think the broader point, and the one that your question gets to, is what that necessarily means and where do we go from here with that information," he said.

League affirms Miller's statement

On Tuesday, league spokesperson Brian McCarthy said, "The comments made by Jeff Miller [on Monday] accurately reflect the view of the NFL."

Meanwhile, an attorney for players involved in a lawsuit against the NFL over how it handled brain injuries filed a letter on Tuesday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

The letter said that Miller's comments represented "a stark turn from [the NFL's] position before the district court."

"The NFL's statements make clear that the NFL now accepts what science already knows: a 'direct link' exists between traumatic brain injury and CTE," the letter states. "Given that, the settlement's failure to compensate present and future CTE is inexcusable."

In response, NFL attorney Paul Clement also filed a letter with the appeals court. "Miller's statement [on Monday] ... is consistent with NFL positions in court and otherwise," the letter said. "The NFL has previously acknowledged studies identifying a potential association between CTE and certain football players"  (Bieler, "Early Lead," Washington Post, 3/14; Pingue, Reuters, 3/15; AP/U.S. News & World Report, 3/15; Fainaru, ESPN, 3/15; Futterman, Wall Street Journal, 3/16; Belson/Schwarz, New York Times, 3/15; Gregory, TIME, 2/6).

Caring for concussion patients

According to the CDC, approximately 1.3 million people sustain a form of concussion each year, while many more go unreported. Recently, concussions have received a sharp increase in national exposure. Public attention is translating into active legislation mandating considerations in concussion care for students in almost forty states.

This research brief profiles four concussion management programs to deliver best in-class tips on how progressive providers are managing concussion care.


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