The National Institutes of Health and the NFL are ending their partnership, specifically the study of concussions, effective in August. The league and the NIH have long been at odds, as the NIH has conducted numerous studies into the effects of football on the long-term health of the athletes. The two sides have had a stormy relationship since its inception in 2012, as the nature of their agreement revolved around showcasing the negative aspects of the league while attempting to aid those aspects.
In what was initially a $30 million pledge to the NIH from the NFL, $16 million has gone unspent. According to ESPN's Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, the NIH has decided to let the agreement dissolve without renewal due to a 2015 conflict where "the NFL backed out of a major study that had been awarded to a researcher who had been critical of the league."
Of the failure to renew, the NIH released the following statement via ESPN:
"The NFL's agreement with [the funding arm of the NIH] ends August 31, 2017, and there are no current research plans for the funds remaining from the original $30 million NFL commitment."
This news comes on the heels of a honor its commitment of $18 million in funding to the NIH. The league responded that "We are currently engaged in constructive discussions with the [Foundation for the National Institutes of Health] regarding potential new research projects and the remaining funds of our $30 million commitment," in a written letter through a spokesman.in 110 out of 111 ex-NFL players, including a kicker and a punter, positions that were previously thought "safe." It is also a mere two days after commissioner Roger Goodell responded to a letter from House members inquiring on if the NFL would
The letter continued to say that "In September 2016, the NFL pledged $100 million in support for independent medical research and engineering advancements in neuroscience-related topics. This is in addition to the $100 million that the NFL and its partners are already spending on medical and neuroscience research."
It would appear that the constructiveness of the discussions was a point of contention between the league and the NIH. In a previous Congressional study, it was reported by the New York Times that the NFL was attempting to influence the results of the NIH's findings. "[Congress's] investigation has shown that while the NFL had been publicly proclaiming its role as the founder and accelerator of important research, it was privately attempting to influence that research," the study said. "The NFL attempted to use its 'unrestricted gift' as leverage to steer funding away from critics."
This decision was reportedly made by the NIH months ago, per Fainaru-Wada and Fainaru. It marks the end of what was deemed the biggest donation in the NFL's history, despite many fans seeing it as a hollow gesture. In addition to their words on being unsure where the rest of the money will be spent, the NIH added that:
"NIH is currently funding concussion research directly. If [the] NFL wishes to continue to support research at NIH, a simple donation to the NIH Gift Fund to support research on sports medicine would be favorably viewed, as long as the terms provided broad latitude in decisions about specific research programs."
The league has long denied any accusations of tampering with research findings, but the partnership has been scrutinized since day one. The next play for the NFL and the NIH will be important, as the partnership is ending in the midst of a firestorm. It should be enlightening to see where the research goes as "independent" research.