For obvious reasons, the NFL has never been keen on admitting there's a link between football injuries and CTE, a degenerative brain disease that disproportionately affects football players. Even when the league professed its commitment to researching the connection, officials at the National Institute of Health were skeptical of its true motivation. However, in a congressional hearing on CTE that took place in Washington, D.C. this afternoon, Jeff Miller, the NFL's executive vice president of health and safety policy, said there is "certainly" a link between football and brain disorders such as CTE — he's the first high-ranking NFL official to say so outright.
During the hearing, Representative Jan Schakowsky directly asked both Miller and Ann McKee, director of the neuropathology core at Boston University's Alzheimer's Disease Center, about the connection. (In the video above, her comments begin at the 1:24:00 mark.) "I want to ask what I think is a yes or no question," she said. "Do you think there is a link between football and brain disorders like CTE?" McKee replied that she "unequivocally" thinks there's a link and goes on to site the extremely high proportion of CTE cases in professional, college, and high school football players. "The fact that over five years I've been able to accumulate this number of cases in football players — it cannot be rare," she said. "In fact, I think we're going to be surprised at how common it is."
See prominent cases of NFL players with CTE:
Prominent cases of NFL players with CTE
Top NFL official sort of admits there's a link between football and CTE
FILE - In this Dec. 10, 1979, file photo, Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler listens carefully as his coach Tom Flores discusses the situation in the last minutes of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns in Oakland, Calif. Stabler, the late NFL MVP and Super Bowl winner who is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has been diagnosed with the brain disease CTE, Boston University researchers say. (AP Photo/Robert H. Houston, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 12, 2012, file photo, New York Giants defensive back Tyler Sash (39) runs with the ball during NFL football practice, in East Rutherford, N.J. A member of the Giantsâ 2012 Super Bowl championship team who died at age 27, safety Sash, was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The disease is linked to repeated brain trauma and associated with symptoms such as memory loss, depression and progressive dementia. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 22, 1960, file photo, New York Giants football player Frank Gifford lies in a bed holding an ice pack on his head at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in New York. Gifford sustained a consussion in a game on Nov. 20, 1960. The family of Pro Football Hall of Famer Frank Gifford says signs of the degenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy were found in his brain after his death. In a statement released through NBC News on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015, the family says Gifford suffered from unspecified âcognitive and behavioral symptomsâ in his later years. He died suddenly of natural causes at his Connecticut home in August at age 84. (AP Photo/File)
FILE - In this Jan. 10, 2010, file photo, New England Patriots linebacker Junior Seau (55) warms up on the field before an NFL wild-card playoff football game in Foxborough, Mass. Star linebacker Junior Seau had a degenerative brain disease when he committed suicide last May, the National Institutes of Health told The Associated Press on Thursday Jan. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)
PITTSBURGH, PA - CIRCA 1987: Mike Webster #52 of Pittsburgh Steelers looks on during a game circa 1987 at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Webster played for the Steelers from 1974-88. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Sporting News via Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - NOVEMBER 19: Quarterback Earl Morrall #15 of the Miami Dolphins looks on from the sidelines against the New York Jets during an NFL football game at The Orange Bowl November 19, 1972 in Miami, Florida. Morrall played for the Dolphins from 1972-76. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Ralph Wenzel, Pittsburgh Steelers National Football League Full Back #62, Sept 1970. (AP Photo)
FILE - In this Sept. 18, 2007 file photo, former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson, a trustee for the Burt Bell/Pete Rozell NFL Player Retirement Plan, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. The family of the late NFL safety plans to appeal terms of a class-action concussion settlement that was announced Wednesday, April 22, 2015, "sooner rather than later." (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
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Then it's Miller's turn. "The answer to that question is certainly yes," he said. "But there's also a number of questions that come with that." Schakowsky presses him: "That was not the unequivocal answer three days before the Super Bowl by Dr. Mitchel Berger" (a member of the NFL's Head, Neck and Spine Committee who outright denied the link at a press conference February 4). Miller avoids answering the question directly a second time, instead saying that McKee's research indicates a link, but his admission is a step forward for a league that's historically refused to face such data.