Can Brigham president be a fair NFL referee?

The NFL is a multibillion-dollar enterprise whose very existence depends on warding off any idea that those riches amount to blood money that comes at the expense of its oversized gladiators, despite mounting evidence of the gruesome toll the game exacts on players’ brains.

Given that, it’s hard to see how getting involved in the middle of the maelstrom as the industry’s chief medical officer would not lead to the sort of awkward position Dr. Elizabeth Nabel finds herself in.

Last year, amidst the growing controversy over NFL player safety, the well-regarded president of Brigham and Women’s Hospital was named the league’s first chief health and medical adviser. The NFL obviously hoped bringing the leader of a renowned Harvard teaching hospital on board would enhance the credibility of its player safety efforts. Instead, the move may be tarnishing Nabel’s reputation.

A congressional report issued this week says Nabel was part of an effort by NFL officials to steer a federal research project, to be funded by the NFL, away from a Boston University scientist, Robert Stern, who has been at the center of research establishing a link between head injuries among NFL players and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

The report, from the Democratic members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, says the NFL “inappropriately attempted to influence” the process of awarding a research grant for a massive study of concussions.

Nabel, in a statement to STAT, the Boston Globe-affiliated health and medical news site, said she “had no intention of influencing” the grant process. “I made my neutrality quite clear.”

Nabel sent at least two emails to the director of the office at the National Institutes of Health that was awarding the grant pointing out concerns about potential conflicts of interest among Boston University researchers seeking the grant funding. Stern had filed testimony in connection with a settlement reached between the NFL and its players’ association.

The NIH office reviewing the grant applications, however, concluded that Stern had no conflict and his proposal received the highest score of any vying for the $16 million grant. In the end, with the NFL wavering over its funding commitment  to the study, the NIH elected to fund the study itself.

The idea that NFL officials would look to influence the selection of researchers by raising questions about their potential conflicts of interest is ironic, to say the least.

Joan Vennochi says Nabel walked more of a “middle ground” than other NFL officials, while still “raising doubts about the Stern study group.” To that degree, says Vennochi, she may only have “played backup” for the NFL team looking to steer the project away from Stern.

Nonetheless, for Nabel and Brigham and Women’s, getting tangled up with a multibillion-industry that has an enormous interest in minimizing the health risks associated with its product increasingly looks like a bad call.

–MICHAEL JONAS

 

BEACON HILL

Beacon Hill’s big three leaders, hospital officials, and leaders of a health care workers union have reached agreement on a health care pricing compromise that they hope will ward off a November ballot question on the issue. (State House News)

The House and Senate send a public records bill to Gov. Charlie Baker. (State House News)

The Senate approves a one-year delay on the Rattlesnake Island plan. (Masslive) The chamber also votes to dispense with medical marijuana fees for veterans. (State House News)

Baker moves to curb sick leave accrual. (State House News)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

More than 30 antique wooden benches, each weighing more than 1,000 pounds and valued at more than $100,000, are stolen from Union Station in Springfield. (Masslive)

A 150-year-old water main burst in Brockton, sending freshly laid asphalt and debris 40 feet into the air in one of the worst breaks officials have seen in the city’s aging infrastructure. (The Enterprise)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Eleven states sue the US government over its transgender policies. (NPR)

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signs a law banning abortions after 19 weeks of pregnancy. (Time)

A new study suggests a tax on soda in Philadelphia would improve health and raise money for education. (Governing)

Experts say Mexico’s military kills far more enemies than it wounds, a rate of 8 to 1, which they say is more indicative of “summary executions” than battles. (New York Times)

ELECTIONS

Yvonne Abraham says Charlie Baker’s decision not to cast a ballot in the presidential race qualifies as courage against the backdrop of his fellow Republican leaders across the country who have called Donald Trump a “dangerous demagogue, a xenophobe, a narcissist and more,” but are now falling into line behind him. (Boston Globe)

Trump returns fire at Elizabeth Warren, who criticized him for comments hoping the economy would crash in 2008 because he would scoop up a lot of bargain-priced property, pointing to her role in buying or helping finance home purchases for relatives, including properties that were in foreclosure. (Boston Globe)

The ultra-conservative Club for Growth is caught between a rock and a really big rock in its #NeverTrump stance and seething animosity for Hillary Clinton. (National Review)

Headline of the day: “Trump to Top Campaign Aide: ‘You’re Fired.’” (U.S. News & World Report)

The Herald scrubs Trump’s policies on “inversion tax,” US debt, and health care in search of coherence and clarity — and finds little.

A scathing State Department report on Hillary Clinton’s handling of emails while secretary of state is not likely to shift views of her, says James Pindell — but it surely doesn’t help her. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The head of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts says a Senate budget amendment banning single-use plastic bags and requiring those that are recyclable is indicative of the “I know better than you” attitude of legislators. (State House News Service)

EDUCATION

A report by Attorney General Maura Healey is critical of governance at Suffolk University, putting particular blame on the board of trustees, which has been in a high-profile conflict with the university’s president, Margaret McKenna. (Boston Globe) The recently-departed chairman of the board fires back at the report, suggesting it was politically motivated. (Boston Herald)

UMass says it will divest all direct fossil fuel investments from its endowment. (Associated Press)

A Berkshire Eagle editorial dismisses a Pioneer Institute report and urges UMass to continue its practice of accepting out-of-state students.

TRANSPORTATION

MBTA parking data suggest revenue at some parking lots soared after an investigation into “discrepancies” was launched and two workers were fired. (CommonWealth)

Lawrence Summers and Rachel Lipson bemoan the costly delays that have plagued the reconstruction of the Anderson Bridge that joins Harvard Square with Boston — and what it says more generally about the country’s ability to take on badly needed infrastructure projects. (Boston Globe)

Why are subway systems in the Northeast struggling? (New York Times)

A Boston-based ride-hailing startup, Fasten, is jumping into the void in Austin,Texas, where Uber and Lyft have pulled up stakes after voters approved a measure requiring all ride-for-hire drivers to be fingerprinted. (Boston Globe)

More people die in accidents from not wearing seat belts in Bristol County than any other region of the state, according to newly released data. (Herald News)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

An energy collaborative that includes National Grid told Plymouth officials they are looking at building a $100 million wind and hydro power transmission substation at the site of the Pilgrim plant when the nuclear facility shuts down in 2019. (Cape Cod Times)

The Weymouth Conservation Commission rejected a proposal by Spectra Energy to build a natural gas compressor station on the Fore River, citing concerns over an explosion of a Spectra-owned pipeline in Pennsylvania. (Patriot Ledger)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno says the shooting of Auburn cop Ronald Tarentino Jr. demonstrates the need for bail reform. (Masslive)  Telegram & Gazette columnist Dianne Williamson says the blame game in the shooting death of Tarentino should stop. “The dirty little secret is that plenty of Jorge Zambrano are out on the street right now,” she writes.The chief judge of the state’s Trial Court comes to the defense of judges who handled previous cases involving Zambrano. (Boston Herald)

Boston police have launched an internal investigation after a video surfaced that shows an off-duty officer roughing up a pedestrian with whom he got into a disagreement as the officer was driving through a crosswalk. (Boston Globe)

MEDIA

Bob Lobel, a former sports anchor at WBZ-TV, agrees to call play-by-play for the Worcester Bravehearts, a futures collegiate team. (Telegram & Gazette)

The New York Times is preparing to offer buyouts to trim the size of its staff. (New York Times)