ESPN: NFL pulled funding of brain injury study

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ESPN says the NFL backed away from funding a new study of CTE, brain disease that is found in dozens of retired football players, reports DeMarco Morgan.

The National Institutes of Health announced Tuesday it is funding the $16 million study.

According to the ESPN report, the NFL pulled out of funding a Boston University brain study after taking issue with its lead researcher, Dr. Robert Stern.

"It's very clear that they were expected to fund this study, and they are not," said Steve Fainaru, an ESPN reporter and co-author of the article. "The NFL objected to him, they questioned whether he could remain impartial."

But in a statement, the NFL adamantly denied the article's claims, saying: "The NFL did not pull funding from the BU study. The National Institutes of Health makes all funding decisions. The NFL has no "veto power.'" On Tuesday, Dr. Stern said the study is more important than the NFL.

"Everyone whose been diagnosed with CTE post-mortem has one thing in common, and that is a history of repetitive hits to the head," he said. "So whether the NFL is funding or not funding, that's really irrelevant to the work itself. We just want to get going."

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The $16 million study is largely based on detecting chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, a degenerative brain disease, in the living. During a "60 minutes" interview broadcast last month, Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke about the league's earlier sizable brain research donation to Boston University, and said he was not worried about its findings.

"We want the facts. We think the facts will help us develop better solutions. And that's why we're advancing medical research. That's why we're funding directly to Boston University on some of this research," Goodell said.

ESPN's report comes just days before the release of "Concussion," a movie about a Nigerian-born pathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu, who came under fire from the league when he first diagnosed CTE in a deceased football player in 2005.

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"That if in fact shown that large numbers of players get brain damage from playing, that is going to have a real impact on not only the sport itself but the business of professional football in this country," Fainaru said.

On Tuesday, the National Institutes of Health released a statement saying: "The NFL is currently funding eight ongoing studies in the area of traumatic brain injury. Any questions about the donation from the NFL should be directed to the NFL."