NFL to encourage players to donate brains for study

The NFL is partnering with Boston University brain researchers who

have been critical of the league’s stance on concussions, The

Associated Press learned Sunday.

The league now plans to encourage current and former NFL

players to agree to donate their brains to the Boston University

Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, which has said it

found links between repeated head trauma and brain damage in

boxers, football players and, most recently, a former NHL player.

“It’s huge that the NFL actively gets behind this research,”

said Robert Cantu, a doctor who is a co-director of the BU center

and has spoken negatively about the league in the past. “It

forwards the research. It allows players to realize the NFL is

concerned about the possibility that they could have this problem,

and that the NFL is doing everything it can to find out about the

risks and the preventive strategies that can be implemented.”

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told the AP on Sunday that the

league also is committed to giving $1 million or more to the

center. Aiello said the league already has held discussions with

the NFL Alumni Association about suggesting that retired players

look into participating in BU’s work by offering their brains for

study after they die.

The league also will contact the nearly 100 retired football

players who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia and

are receiving benefits from the league to ask their families to

consider donating those players’ brains to the BU study.

“The people affiliated with the center have identified the

donation of brains, both from healthy people and those that have

had multiple concussions, as their most critical need right now to

further the research into this disease,” Aiello said. “We … will

discuss with the center its research needs as we go forward in this

partnership.”

Cantu said he and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell met in

October to discuss concussions and the BU project.

Sunday’s news represents the latest in a series of moves the

NFL has made in recent weeks to step up its attention to

concussions in the aftermath of a congressional hearing on the

topic.

That included stricter return-to-play guidelines detailing

what symptoms preclude someone from participating in games or

practices; a mandate that each team select a league- and

union-approved independent neurologist to be consulted when players

get concussions; and the departure of the two co-chairmen of the

NFL’s committee on brain trauma.

“They have done a bit of an about-face. Pressure probably has

played a role in that,” Cantu said in a telephone interview. “But I

honestly think that Goodell does believe in player safety and the

product is just better with your best players on the field, not

your best players injured.”

Aiello said Sunday that a concussion study the league has

been conducting since 2007 is on hold until the former committee

co-chairmen — Ira Casson and David Viano – are replaced. They

resigned last month. He said the league is interviewing candidates,

none of whom is currently affiliated with the league or any team.

“Now that we’re changing the committee, we want to make some

revisions in how the study proceeds,” Aiello said in a telephone

interview.

The New York Times first reported that the study is on

hold.

Casson is slated to testify at a House Judiciary Committee

hearing Jan. 4 about football head injuries. He did not attend the

panel’s hearing Oct. 28, when BU’s Cantu said there is “growing and

convincing evidence” that repetitive concussive and subconcussive

hits to the head in NFL players leads to a degenerative brain

disease.

Another co-director of the BU center, Ann McKee, showed the

committee images of brains of dead football players with the

disease and told lawmakers, “We need to take radical steps” to

change the way football is played.