(Story updated with comment from the NFL at 1:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 12.)
Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, president of Brigham and Women's Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School, will serve as the first chief health and medical adviser for the National Football League, which has been beset by concerns and accusations about player concussions and how the league has dealt with them over the years.
Nabel's appointment was announced Monday by the league but she would not answer questions about it, a Brigham and Women's spokeswoman said. So the only details about her exact role and how she will work with existing team doctors and the NFL's existing medical structure came in the broad terms outlined in the league's announcement.
Nabel, a cardiologist by trade, will serve as the league's “senior medical expert,” while continuing her work at Brigham and Women's and Harvard, the NFL said. She'll be responsible for providing strategic input into the NFL's medical, health and science efforts, and will work directly with Commissioner Roger Goodell, the league's top official.
While selecting a cardiologist to work with the league at a time when its major health issue appears to be concussions and their after-effects on players, the league said it was looking for broad medical expertise.
“Dr. Nabel was selected, not for one specific area of expertise, but rather for her breadth and depth of knowledge on many medical issues, including from her perspective as the CEO of a hospital system,” Jeff Miller, NFL senior vice president of Health & Safety Policy, said in a statement. “We have experts in their respective fields leading each of our medical committees—including some of the leading neuroscientists in the country, and we are pleased that Dr. Nabel will be able to bring her unique experience to the role.”
As a part of her new role, Nabel will participate as an ex-officio member on each of the NFL's medical advisory committees and help the league identify ways in which it can improve player safety, care and treatment, according to a release. She'll also work with San Francisco 49ers Chairman Dr. John York, chairman of the NFL Owners Committee on Health and Safety, and Jeff Miller, the NFL's SVP of Health and Safety Policy.
Nabel will rank higher than all other NFL medical executives and advisors, internal or external, a league spokeswoman said, including the league's medical director, Dr. Elliot Pellman, who will continue to advise the league on medical affairs.
The NFL has been criticized for minimizing research on the long-term effects of concussions suffered by its players, but has acknowledged that concussions can lead to long-term problems.
The league launched a $60 million research and development initiative in 2013 to prevent, detect and treat brain injuries among its players, and made a $30 million donation in 2012 to the Sports and Health Research Program at the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health to research conditions that are prominent in athletes.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association, which oversees college sports, hired Dr. Brian Hainline as its first chief medical officer in 2012. Before he worked at the NCAA, he was CMO for the United States Tennis Association.
Most of the major sports leagues have medical advisors, holding positions with titles such as medical director or SVP of medical affairs.
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