The National Football League (NFL) will donate $30 million to the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health in support of research on serious medical conditions prominent in athletes and relevant to the general population.
With this contribution, NFL becomes the founding donor to a new Sports and Health Research Program, which will be conducted in collaboration with institutes and centers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Specific plans for the research to be undertaken remain to be developed, but potential areas under discussion include concussion; chronic traumatic encephalopathy; the potential relationship between traumatic brain injury and late life neurodegenerative disorders, especially Alzheimer disease; chronic degenerative joint disease; the transition from acute to chronic pain; sudden cardiac arrest in young athletes; and heat and hydration-related illness and injury.
The announcement of the philanthropic gift, the largest that NFL has given in the league's 92-year history, coincides with the release of a study that found that professional football players are more likely to die from neurological disorders than other men.
The study, published online in Neurology, looked at death rates for more than 3,400 pros who played for at least 5 years from 1959 to 1988. For players in speed positions, such as quarterback, running back, and linebacker, death rates for Alzheimer disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis combined were 4 times higher than for men in the general population, says a HealthDay News article. The researchers also looked at death rates for Parkinson disease but found no difference from the general population.
While the study appears to support recent research showing an increase of diseases that damage brain cells among football players, it does not prove that playing pro ball is the cause. Other factors, including the football field surface and looser safety guidelines during the study period, may have played a role, experts say.
Also, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a relatively new diagnosis associated with concussions and repeated blows to the head, might have been the actual or partial cause of death for some, says the article.