How the N.F.L. manipulates CTE / Concussion research

Companies manipulate finances, pharmaceutical companies manipulate medical studies and doctors, Monsanto manipulates soybeans and the FDA, Big Tobacco manipulated / underplayed the dangers of smoking, Food companies manipulate the food we eat, the list continues forever. The latest story of manipulation comes from the National Football League.

A recent NYT article highlighted how the NFL gave significant amounts of money to research for CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), in order to show that they were concerned for the welfare of the players. But a congressional committee showed that they intentionally tried to steer the research funds to a particular institution that has ties with the N.F.L. and therefore rendering them capable of controlling what is published. Realize that the N.F.L. vehemently stated that concussions were safe and did not contribute to CTE for years. It wasn’t until a group of doctors published a research paper highlighting the connection between concussions from football actually contributed to CTE. Even when the study was published, they fought tooth and nail to have it retracted. It was not until early 2016 when the N.F.L. would acknowledge a link between football and CTE.

Manipulation of university funded research has existed since day they were founded. Prior to the early twentieth century, most medicine was herbal and pharmaceutical drugs were the minority. However, in the early 1900’s, John D. Rockefeller, Morgan and Carnegie donated huge amounts of money to medical schools (University of Chicago’s School of Medicine was the first). For better or worse, they imposed the stipulations that predominantly pharmaceutical based medicine would be researched and taught. Then they hired Abraham Flexner to evaluate every medical school in the country. Flexner then convinced the government to draw up legislation that would license only physicians trained in chemical based pharmacology and surgery. To be fair, the medical schools badly needed reform in those days. The point is that teaching and research were highly manipulated by large companies right from the start.

As a large company, the N.F.L. donated more than 30 million to the National Institutes of Health in 2012 alone. The NIH is known as an institution that is supposed to be free of big company influence. In theory the large sum of money is going for a good cause, and of course the N.F.L. stated that they would have no influence over how the money was used. But as with any very large company that gives money to research a certain topic, they expect certain results. The problem is that the N.F.L. is not quite as sophisticated as big pharmaceutical and agriculture companies in hiding their real motives regarding research studies. Basically the N.F.L. did not like the direction their money was going and pulled the funding from the NIH.

Nevertheless, good research is coming out and some progress is being made, especially in prevention of concussions. Let’s hope that concussion research continues to move forward in an unbiased manner for the better of everyone.