Eric Winston: Report findings are 'microcosm' of how NFL treats players

CINCINNATI -- NFL Players Association president and Bengals offensive tackle Eric Winston slammed the NFL this week, charging that allegations in a recent congressional report on the way the NFL improperly handled its recent concussion study was "a symptom" and "microcosm" of the way the league treated its players.

The congressional report, which was released Monday and highlighted in an ESPN Outside the Lines report the same day, concluded that at least a half-dozen top NFL health officials waged an improper, behind-the-scenes campaign last year to influence a major U.S. government research study on football and brain disease. The 91-page report highlighted ways the NFL pressured the National Institutes of Health to take the $16 million project from a prominent Boston University researcher, and instead redirect the money to members of the league's committee on brain injuries. The study was to have been funded by a $30 million "unrestricted gift" the NFL gave the NIH in 2012.

According to Winston, such actions by the NFL are par for the course.

"The way they treated NIH is a symptom and is just a microcosm of really the way they treat players throughout the league, right?" Winston said Tuesday. "Every player needs to know because it's every player that's going to be affected by a study like this. It's every player that's going to be affected by personal conduct. It's every player that's affected by these things. So it's not just about my vendetta or it's not just about me. ... It's about educating the players and letting them know, 'Listen, this affects you.'"

Winston's comments came a day after he tweeted a link to the OTL story, and then also tweeted that the congressional findings were reasons the NFLPA did its own study on brain injuries. The league couldn't be trusted, he tweeted.

"That's why we didn't get it done with them in the first place," Winston said of the NFLPA conducting a joint study with the NFL. "That's why we've taken our money and gone to Harvard and are doing a comprehensive, large, macro-scale study on former players. Because we don't want to be a part of something like that. That's not what we want to do. We want to go find the facts. Whatever those are, whatever those are going to be, we want to find the facts so we can educate the players. Bottom line.

"We're not interested in creating the facts. We're not interested in dictating the facts. We want to go find the facts and find out what they're going to be and go that way."

The congressional report also concluded the NFL's actions during the study were part of a "long-standing pattern of attempts" by the league to shape concussion research for its own purposes.

Winston said he wasn't surprised to learn that.

"When you're in it like I am -- and I don't want to say it flippantly like, 'Oh, I'm not surprised' -- but listen: In every single subject, personal conduct and bringing it back to that, the NFL brings this weight to bear and does what it takes to get what it wants. And that's the way it is," Winston said. "And so I guess players have to understand that while it's the NIH now, while it's Tom Brady now, it could be them later and you've got to understand that going forward."

Brady is currently in the middle of an appeals process with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals over his four-game suspension from the NFL over the Deflategate saga.

"I'm angry for the population," Winston said. "I'm angry for our players.

"At the end of the day, they've [the NFL] done this before."

Winston is hopeful the league will make certain changes in the next collective bargaining agreement. Whether it's about changing the league's influence on studies like this one or altering its player-conduct and suspension policies, Winston would like to think league offices will see room for growth in the next CBA.

Based on the public outcry following Monday's findings, it appears Winston and the NFLPA have an ally in NFL fans.

"Obviously, everybody wants to be agreed with. That's just human nature," Winston said. "But at the end of the day, we can't make decisions as a union and as players based on what necessarily the fans want or think. So we have to do what's best for us."