The NFL’s lead concussion doctor feels like he’s been blindsided.
In an interview with Tom Pelissero of USA Today, Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, who co-chairs the league’s head, neck and spine committee, denies he tried to direct funds for a research grant on the NFL’s behalf and said he wasn’t contacted before the Congressional report critical of the league’s role was released.
Ellenbogen said his two phone calls with National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke director Dr. Walter Koroshetz were related to the research protocols, and not to influence whether a $16 million grant went to researchers at Boston University instead.
“We know there are long-term risks of traumatic brain injury, and we need to know the incidence and prevalence,” Ellenbogen said. “Is it one in a million or is it 100 in a million? That was the entire thing that got blown up.
“I never talked to Congress. No one ever asked me my opinion. I had two private conversations with Walter, and this is a lesson I guess: Big Government can crush you if you disagree with them. I’m trying to protect the kids.”
The Democratic staff report of the House Energy and Commerce Committee criticized the NFL, saying they tried to influence the direction of research funding.
The league has denied the allegations in the report, saying they were “deeply committed to continuing to accelerate scientific research and advancements in this critical area, and we stand ready to support additional independent research to that end.”
Ellenbogen, who said he isn’t paid by the NFL, defended his work studying concussions in youth players, and said he hoped for longitudinal studies to provide more information. He’s taken up the cause after a patient of his (Zackery Lystedt) nearly died because of a brain hemorrhage after he re-entered a game following a concussion. He’s advocated for a law that requires youth athletes who suffer concussions to receive written approval from a doctor before returning to play.
“Why would I go and lobby 50 states to pass the Zack Lystedt law if I wanted to hide the [issue]?” Ellenbogen said. “We put protection in place for kids. That’s what I do. I’m there to make sports safer. Sports are good for kids. I want to make it safer. That’s my role. Period.
“I had no delusions [about influencing the grant selection]. But as long as it’s America, I get to express my opinion. And Congress never asked me. That’s pretty interesting – guilty until proven innocent, huh?”
While the report may have been partisan, it’s certainly an embarrassing visual for the league, and something owners will certainly want to learn more about from commissioner Roger Goodell at today’s league meetings in Charlotte.