While football fans were busy discussing Week 2 of the 2013 pro football season, PETA challenged the sports community by talking about what it suggests is a different NFL-sponsored pastime: animal testing in NFL-funded medical research.
With the launch of a new campaign initiative, "Unnecessary Roughness," PETA told supporters that the NFL's funding to research athletic injuries is no game for the laboratory animals involved.
In a press release, PETA says the NFL has "quietly funded horrific and deadly sports-injury experiments on dogs, mice, rats, and other animals at Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of California–Los Angeles, the University of Notre Dame, and other schools and private laboratories."
In February, PETA's Justin Goodman, director of the Laboratory Investigations Department, first contacted NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, citing numerous NFL-sponsored medical studies that PETA claimed used animal testing. Goodman told The Huffington Post that he was "hoping to open up a dialogue privately" about NFL funding.
Studies cited in PETA's letter included a University of Gothenburg study, which repeatedly concussed mice to imitate brain injuries, as well as a Vanderbilt study that states laboratory dogs were given "lesions to the knee" to imitate sports injuries, and researchers subsequently "sacrificed" the dogs so scientists could study the results. The NFL never responded to PETA's February letter, Goodman said.
PETA decided to renew its efforts in the wake of the NFL's late August lawsuit settlement against some 4,500 injured former and current NFL players. After the league agreed to a nearly $400 million settlement fee -- $10 million of which will specifically go to medical research -- PETA urged fans to tell the NFL not to fund more animal testing.
The NFL responded to PETA's campaign Thursday, telling Bleacher Report that "All grant requests have to be approved in advance by the institutional review board of the participating institution. In addition, we require any proposal to have been submitted for approvals by the institution’s animal care and use committee prior to applying for funds."
Indeed, the NFL has awarded grants to extremely prestigious medical researchers. One of these institutes, the UCLA Brain Research Institute, which received a grant in 2011, has become highly visible for its laboratory research on animals, both by proponents and opponents of the practice, according to the Los Angeles Times. In 2012, three UCLA researchers were even given an award by American Association for the Advancement of Science for continuing their animal research despite backlash.
The head of the institute's Office of Animal Research Oversight was not available for comment at the time of publication.
It seems what the science field celebrates as visionary, animal activists see as abuse. While the ethical quandary continues to play out, it remains to be seen whether the NFL will change its funding habits.