“This individual will be responsible for working with our team medical staffs, the NFLPA and our medical committees, as well as the broader independent scientific and medical communities. This individual will add to our expertise and help ensure that our clubs have access to the most up-to-date information, that our research funds are spent in an effective and targeted way, and that our players and team staffs receive timely and thorough information on injuries and injury prevention.”
The league hired Betsy Nabel in February 2015 as its chief health and medical adviser. She remains the president of Brigham and Women’s Health Care. Nabel will participate in the search for a full-time chief medical officer, according to Goodell’s memo. That search is to begin this week, Goodell wrote.
Goodell’s memo also informed teams that Pellman will retire after nearly 30 years of working with the New York Jets and the NFL. The role of Pellman, a rheumatologist with no prior expertise in brain injury research, in formulating the sport’s concussion-related policies was questioned in litigation and in media reports in recent years.
The moves, including Pellman’s decision to retire, were prompted by Goodell, according to a person familiar with the situation. Pellman once oversaw the league’s mild traumatic brain injury committee and, according to ESPN, his name appeared 26 times in a lawsuit accusing the NFL of concealing a link between football and brain damage.
“There is no higher priority than the health and safety of our players,” Goodell wrote in Wednesday’s memo. “We have made important progress in this area, including rules changes, the addition of medical personnel, treatment of injuries, and better education for our players and football staffs. Working with the NFLPA and others, we also have added multiple layers of independent and expert resources and have committed to unprecedented levels of investment in independent medical research and biomechanical engineering, all designed to accelerate science, identify new technologies and means of preventing and treating injuries, and make our sport safer.”
The NFL has been under intense scrutiny this year for a number of incidents. Jeff Miller, the league’s senior vice president for health and safety policy, seemed to acknowledge a link between football and degenerative brain disorders such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in comments on Capitol Hill.
But the league and some team owners quickly retreated from that position. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said at the annual league meeting in March that it was “absurd” to contend that current medical evidence firmly establishes a link between football and CTE.
In May, Goodell defended the league against accusations made in a report by a congressional committee regarding funding of research into brain injuries. The report by Democratic members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee alleged that the NFL attempted to pressure the National Institutes of Health to take a $16 million project from Boston University researcher Robert Stern. Goodell said the NFL did nothing improper and its representatives merely engaged in dialogue with NIH officials that is “standard practice.”