BOCA RATON, Fla. — NFL owners were caught off guard by the acknowledgement to a Congressional panel last week by a top league safety official of a link between football and degenerative brain disease.

“It took us by surprise,” one NFL owner said at this week’s annual league meeting of the response to the statement made by Jeff Miller.

Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety policy, was asked during a roundtable discussion convened by the House Committee on Energy & Commerce last week by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) whether there is a link between football and degenerative brain disorders such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Miller replied that “the answer to that is certainly, yes.”

It was believed to be the first time that an NFL official acknowledged such a link between football and CTE.

The league issued a statement by a spokesman the following day saying it stood by Miller’s comment.

The admission was praised by some medical experts. Legal experts said the acknowledgement could have potential courtroom repercussions for the NFL. The league’s settlement with a group of former players who sued over concussion-related issues is before a federal appeals court.

“I think the game of football has never been safer than it is today,” New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said Monday. “I played. My sons have played. I have three grandsons who play now. So we have three generations playing this game. We believe in it. I think what has been done with the rules, I think what has been done with the equipment — balancing everything, my family plays it because I think life lessons and what you get out of playing football is way beyond the risks of what happens. I honestly believe the risks are being managed as well as they can be today.”