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Pallone, Green, Schakowsky, DeGette Express Concern Regarding NFL’s Alleged “Veto Power” over Scientific Studies at NIH

Jan 7, 2016
Press Release
Democrats Request More Information on the League’s Influence over CTE Research

WASHINGTON, DC — Today, Democratic leaders on the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH), requesting more information regarding the National Football League’s (NFL) involvement in the administration of a $30 million “unrestricted” grant it gave to NIH for scientific studies.  Full Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Health Subcommittee Ranking Member Gene Green (D-TX), Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Subcommittee Ranking Member Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Diana DeGette (D-CO) expressed concern regarding the league’s alleged attempt to influence the selection of scientists conducting chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) research as part of this $30 million grant. 

In an article published last month, ESPN alleged that the NFL “backed out” of funding a seven year, $16 million study by NIH to attempt to study chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease associated with repetitive head impacts.  Originally, the study was to have been funded by a $30 million donation from the NFL to NIH, which the NFL described as an “unrestricted” gift to the agency.  However, when NIH awarded the grant to Dr. Robert Stern, a Boston University researcher who has been critical of the NFL, the League allegedly pulled funding for the CTE research.

Additionally, conflicting reports have surfaced about the provisions of the agreement between the NFL and NIH.  While the NFL maintained that the $30 million gift was “unrestricted” in nature, ESPN reports that the League actually retained “veto power” over projects it funded.  

Given NIH’s status as the world’s preeminent biomedical agency, the lawmakers expressed their concern “about the potential implications of outside entities attempting to exercise ‘veto power’ or other influence over the selection of NIH research applicants, and we therefore seek to better understand the role the NFL has played in the allocation and administration of its $30 million ‘unrestricted’ grant.”

The members requested that NIH provide documents and information to the Committee by February 1, 2016 in order to better understand the nature of the agency’s agreement with the NFL. 

The full text of the letter to NIH can be found here, and the full text of the letter to FNIH is available here.