For the first time, a high-ranking NFL official admitted that there is a link between the head trauma produced in football and degenerative brain diseases like chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

According to USA Today, in a roundtable discussion on concussions hosted by a US House of Representatives Committee, Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president of health and safety policy, acknowledged that football may be responsible for players developing CTE.

When asked by Rep. Jan Schakowsky whether a link exists between football and CTE, Miller acknowledged what many following the sport already knew.

“The answer to that question is certainly yes,” he said. Miller did add that there were still “a number of questions that come with that.”

It represents somewhat of a shift for the NFL, which has been denying a link between football and brain diseases despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

CTE was found in 87 out the of 91 brains of former NFL players that donated their brains to researchers Boston University. The lab has found CTE in 131 out of 165 total brains that came from individuals that played football at the high school level or above.

The research has sparked a national discussion over the safety of football and other sports, including soccer. (Women's soccer legend Brandi Chastain recently announced that she would be donating her brain to CTE research). 

Chris Nowinski, co-founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, said that the focus must be on protecting athletes at all levels.

“We have to face the truth that this is a dangerous game and a potentially very dangerous one for the brain,” Nowinski told USA Today. “We really have to step back and make this not about pro-football or anti-football but how to protect kids. So if they choose to play football when they’re old enough they don’t develop CTE.”

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Jason Scott is Online Managing Editor of Athletic Business.