(AFP) - The NFL's top health executive on Monday became the first senior league official to acknowledge a link between football-related head trauma and the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Jeff Miller, the NFL's vice-president of health and safety, was pressed at a roundtable organized by the Energy and Commerce Committee of the US House of Representatives on whether there was indeed a link between the hard-hitting gridiron game and neurodegenerative diseases such as CTE.
"The answer to that question is certainly yes," Miller said.
However, Miller added it was unclear how that would affect the future of America's most popular sport.
"There is a number of questions that comes with that," Miller said.
"I think the broader point, and the one that your question gets to, is what that necessarily means, and where do we go from here with that information."
In the build-up to Super Bowl 50 this year, neurosurgeon Mitch Berger, who leads the NFL's subcommittee on long-term brain injury, said no link between football and CTE had been established.
Representative Jan Schakowsky of Illinois was critical of Berger's comments, saying the league was "peddling a false sense of security" in downplaying the dangers of head trauma in football.
"Football is a high-risk sport because of the routine hits, not just diagnosable concussions," Schakowsky said.
"What the American public needs now is honesty about the health risks and clearly more research."
While the league has previously acknowledged that head trauma, particularly concussion, poses a risk to the long-term health of players, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and other top officials have not taken definitive public stands on the matter.
In giving his answers, Miller cited the work of Boston University neuropathologist Ann McKee.
McKee told committee members there is no doubt in her mind the illness, which can only be detected after death, is linked to playing football.
"I unequivocally think there's a link between playing football and CTE," she said.
"We've seen it in 90 out of 94 NFL players whose brains we've examined, we've found it in 45 out of 55 college players and six out of 26 high school players."