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NFL official admits link between football and degenerative brain disease CTE for the first time

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For the first time, a senior NFL official has acknowledged that there is a connection between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative disease discovered in the brains of several former professional players. Jeff Miller, the NFL's senior vice president for health and safety, admitted that there was a link between the two during a roundtable discussion on the issue of football-related head trauma, organized by the US House of Representatives' Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill) asked Miller directly whether he thought there was a link between football and degenerative brain disorders like CTE. "The answer to that question is certainly yes," he replied, citing research by Dr. Ann McKee, a brain injury specialist who found signs of CTE in 90 of 94 deceased NFL players, 45 out of 55 college players, and six out of 26 high-school students.

Previously an NFL doctor said there was no link

Miller's reply runs counter to that provided by by Dr. Mitch Berger, a member of the NFL's Head, Neck & Spine Committee, earlier this year. Speaking during Super Bowl week, Berger said there was no link between degenerative brain disorders and football, and that CTE could be found in the brains of people who had lived all kinds of lives. "There's no question that you can find degenerative changes that are indicative of CTE in individuals who have played football," Berger told the Toronto Star, but he said that tau — the protein that appears in a distinctive form in brains that suffered from CTE — is found in many brains that have traumatic injuries. "Whether it's from football, whether it's from car accidents, gunshot wounds, domestic violence, remains to be seen," Berger said at the time.

Yesterday's acknowledgement of the link between football and CTE is the first from a league source, but Miller equivocated somewhat, noting that there are "a number of questions that come with that." Before he could specify those questions, Schakowsky stopped him, asking again if there was a connection. Miller supplied another positive answer. Schakowsky also referenced Dr. Berger's comments at the roundtable, noting the turnaround from the NFL's previous stance. "That was not the unequivocal answer three days before the Super Bowl by Dr. Mitchel Berger," she said.

The comments could have a bearing on the NFL's concussion lawsuit

The league itself has yet to comment on the issue, but Miller's acknowledgment was reported on the NFL's own site, one of the few occasions it has actively reported on the concussion crisis that has been steadily building around football in recent years. His comments could also have an impact on the settlement proposed by the NFL in the concussion lawsuit brought by hundreds of former football professionals. In a letter to the Third Court of Appeals, ESPN reports, a lawyer representing seven objecting players said that the league has now executed a "stark turn" on its previous stance, and that the prior settlement did not take the danger of CTE properly into account.