Harvard wins bid to improve health of NFL players

Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been selected to oversee a $100 million research project aimed at treating and preventing the injuries that plague many professional football players. Harvard was selected by the National Football League players union to run the project, which will include a study of 1,000 retired players.

The NFL Players Association said it was inspired to act after it was determined that professional football players die 20 years earlier than other American men, on average. In addition to studying traumatic brain injuries that can result from multiple concussions, researchers will also study everything from arthritis in the joints to the chronic use of painkillers.

The research project, which is set to span 10 years, will involve Harvard specialists from many schools and hospitals. The goal will be to transform the health of current and former NFL players within the next five years. Both mental and physical health will be assessed in the project.

As the president of the NFL player association explained, until now, there has not been a solid effort to examine “how this game affects our players in the long run.” He added that many players learn to live in constant pain as a result of injuries they sustain playing the sport.

“You get used to it,” he said. “I hope this project gets us to a place where players someday don’t have to get used to it.”

The project is being funded by the players themselves after the union elected to earmark $11 million annually for medical research as part of their 2011 collective bargaining agreement with the NFL. About two dozen research centers applied to lead the project, including Boston University School of Medicine, the University of Michigan and Duke University’s Health System.

The project will launch amid hundreds of lawsuits that were filed by former players and their families against the NFL. The lawsuits allege that NFL officials knew about the long-term dangers associated with repetitive brain traumas, but failed to take action to protect the players.

Source: Boston Globe, “NFL players union and Harvard team up on landmark study of football injuries and illness,” Kay Lazar, Jan. 28, 2013