Report: NFL not contributing to $100 million Harvard brain study

By Mike Singer |

The NFL isn't contributing to Harvard's brain study. (USATSI)

The NFLPA announced a $100 million research grant for Harvard Medical School in January of 2013, but according to an Outside the Lines report, the Union never intended on paying the full stated amount allotted for concussion research.

Instead, the NFLPA intended to make the major announcement, representing one of the most comprehensive sports research projects, in order to coerce the NFL into paying a share of the announced grant.

“The announcement was a public relations gambit by the Union to pressure the NFL into putting up half the money for a study that would address fundamental questions about player health, including the long-term impact of concussions,” the report stated.

After the NFL refused to pay the $50 million, the study now finds itself wondering how it will pay for a project that includes 10 schools, 16 medical centers, numerous researchers and 1,000 retired NFL players.

Now that the $100 million guaranteed grant money is off the table, Union officials said it will continue to fund the research as long as Harvard can prove the research's merit. How much money has been given or will be given wasn't clear, and what the NFLPA's standards are for useful research is unknown as well. Harvard researchers declined to comment.

“[Whether the money continues] really depends on how successful they are,” NFLPA lawyer Sean Sansiveri told OTL. “If we're not happy with the work at any point, we can just turn off any funding.”

The dispute stemmed from the 2011 CBA, where both sides (the NFL and NFLPA) agreed to donate $11 million, collectively, to medical research for 10 years. Neither side could agree on how the money should be allocated, and the NFL, facing pressure from the fallout after Junior Seau committed suicide in 2012, wound up giving $30 million to the National Institute of Health.

Simultaneously, the NFLPA was researching its own project (enter Harvard) and assumed the NFL would participate.

After a year of back channeling and negotiations, the two sides took their $50 million, respectively, and broke whatever joint venture there once was.

The NFL verified to OTL that it was spending the $50 million on research, including some amount to the NIH as well as the U.S. military.

Perhaps the NFL is avoiding the Harvard study – a long-term investment in the health of the league's players – because it's scared of what it will find. After all, as detailed in the recent book League of Denial, for years the NFL cherry-picked which studies it chose to endorse so as not to set off any alarms among current players.

“The NFL, they're not necessarily in the business of the public good, they're in their business,” said Eric Nauman, a professor at Purdue, who has studied football-related injuries.

Although in the NFL's defense, the NIH has said that the NFL hasn't influenced which projects the Institute pursues.

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