NFL remarks on football-brain link come before court ruling

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) – The NFL’s sudden acknowledgement of a link between football and brain disease comes as a U.S. appeals court prepares to rule on the fairness of a likely $1 billion settlement that excludes future CTE diagnoses.

The NFL filed a letter with the court this week after league official Jeff Miller, senior vice president for health and safety, acknowledged that brain research on deceased players “certainly” shows a link between football and CTE.

“Simply put, Mr. Miller’s remarks have no bearing on the pending appeal,” NFL lawyer Paul Clement argued in a letter filed late Tuesday. “The NFL has previously acknowledged studies identifying a potential association between CTE and certain football players.”

The settlement would affect more than 20,000 retirees, paying $190,000 on average but up to $5 million to young men with severe neurological conditions, such as Lou Gehrig’s disease or Parkinson’s disease. The NFL has said it expects three out of 10 ex-players to qualify for compensation during their lifetime.

Critics who appealed the settlement believe it should also cover future cases of CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which cannot currently be diagnosed until after death. Some believe that Miller’s statement lends weight to that position, and they asked the court to consider it in their review.

“To have said anything other than that would have been ridiculous at this point,” said Dr. Robert Stein of Boston University, who expects to find a way to diagnose CTE in the living within five to seven years.

The appeals court could ask for briefs on the point, or remand the case back to U.S. District Judge Anita Brody for new findings. But most consider that a long shot.

“I don’t think it’s going to have very much impact on the settlement,” sports law professor Marc Edelman said Wednesday. “The NFL has been very careful to avoid a statement like this until the settlement seemed completed,” said sports law professor Marc Edelman.

The appeals court heard arguments on the settlement in November, and a ruling is expected soon.

Miller made his remarks at a congressional hearing at which Dr. Ann McKee of Boston University presented evidence that 90 of 94 deceased NFL players whose brains have been studied had CTE.

“Some would say it’s in the NFL’s best interest to acknowledge the link between concussion and CTE, because as long as they continue to deny it, new players might be able to argue concealment” in future lawsuits, Edelman said.

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