NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell defended the league Tuesday against allegations made in a report by a congressional committee regarding funding of research into brain injuries.
“A congressman issued that report without even talking to any of our advisers,” Goodell said at a news conference at the conclusion of a one-day owners’ meeting at a Charlotte hotel. “I don’t think that’s appropriate. I don’t think that’s the right way to do things.”
The report was issued Monday by Democratic members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, led by ranking member Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.).
The report accused the NFL of trying to pressure the National Institutes of Health to take a $16 million project from Boston University researcher Robert Stern. The project was to be funded from a $30 million unrestricted donation from the NFL to the NIH.
“The NFL attempted to use its ‘unrestricted gift’ as leverage to steer funding away from one of its critics,” the report said.
The report said the NFL, after being rejected by the NIH in its attempt to remove Stern and direct the funding to members of the league’s committee on brain injuries, backed out of a signed agreement and taxpayers paid for the study.
“I didn’t see the report,” Goodell said Tuesday. “We were traveling down here. But I take a much different position to that on several fronts. One is our commitment to medical research is well documented. We made a commitment to the NIH. It is normal practice for you to have discussions back and forth with the NIH. We have several members that are advisers on our committees, including Betsy Nabel, including Rich Ellenbogen, who have had experience with NIH or worked with NIH.
“And these are very important to continue to have that kind of dialogue through appropriate channels, which our advisers have. They have those relationships. That’s a standard practice. So we have our commitment of $30 million to the NIH. We’re not pulling that back one bit. We continue to focus on things that our advisers believe are important to study. Ultimately it’s the NIH’s decision.”
Ellenbogen, co-chairman of the NFL’s head, neck and spine committee, wrote a letter Tuesday to committee members, including Pallone, complaining that he was criticized in the report without being contacted.
Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president of health and safety, reportedly told investigators that the league expressed its concerns appropriately through proper channels. The report was first obtained Monday by ESPN.
Goodell said Tuesday the NFL is committed to making the sport as safe as possible for players.
“Since I became commissioner, I’ve raised this as our number one priority,” Goodell said. “It’s something that we have to do better at. We have to continue to make progress to make our game safer for our players at the NFL level but also future players and at all levels of football. We have to do it for our retired players. So we have to continue to find ways in which to make our game safer. We’re not done yet. I put that as a very important concern for us going forward, to make the game safer for those playing today and those playing in the future and to do what we can to help retired players continue to transition through life in a positive way.
“We’ve seen some very positive reports about retired players in the last couple of weeks. But we need to reach out to our retired players. We need to reach out to our current players, let them know what’s happening out there, the facts. One of the things we’re trying to do, whether it’s kids playing youth football or whether it’s high school or whether it’s college or whether it’s the NFL or retired players, is make sure people understand the facts. And that’s what we’ve done and that’s why we’re going to continue to be committed to this, have transparency in what we do.”