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NFL, ESPN butt heads over brain research report

Roger Goodell


This morning, ESPN published a story saying that the NFL “has backed out of one of the most ambitious studies yet on the relationship between football and brain disease.” Almost immediately, the NFL denied it.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy took to Twitter shortly after ESPN published its story and said that the NFL has given money to the National Institutes of Health for brain research, and that the NIH determines which studies that money should finance.

“ESPN story is not accurate. NFL did not pull any funding. NIH makes its own decisions,” McCarthy wrote.

It’s interesting to see that the NFL can, when it wants to, react quickly to an ESPN report it views as inaccurate. That isn’t always the case: Eleven months ago, when ESPN published an inaccurate story about the air pressure levels in the Patriots’ footballs, the NFL made no effort to correct the story, leaving the public with a false impression about the extent to which the footballs were under-inflated.

But this time, the league and ESPN are at odds and the league wants to make that clear. ESPN reports that the league objected to this particular research because it believes that the lead researcher, Boston University neurology and neurosurgery professor Robert Stern, is biased against the NFL. The league insists that it simply doesn’t weigh in on the merits of the studies; to hear the NFL tell it, the league just gave the NIH $30 million for brain research and lets the NIH take it from there.

This isn’t the first time and won’t be the last time that the league and the sports media behemoth that pays the league $1.9 billion a year for Monday Night Football have butted heads over the coverage of brain injuries.