The NFL is partnering with Boston University brain researchers who have been critical of the league's stance on concussions, the

Associated Press

learned yesterday.

The league now plans to encourage current and former NFL players to agree to donate their brains to the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, which has said it found links between repeated head trauma and brain damage in boxers, football players and, most recently, a former NHL player.

"It's huge that the NFL actively gets behind this research," said Robert Cantu, a co-director of the BU center who has spoken negatively about the league in the past. "It forwards the research. It allows players to realize the NFL is concerned about the possibility that they could have this problem, and that the NFL is doing everything it can to find out about the risks and the preventive strategies that can be implemented."

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told the AP yesterday that the league also is committed to giving $1 million or more to the center.

"The precise amount hasn't been determined," Aiello said. "We will discuss it with them. It depends on their needs. We are committed to funding research" on brain injuries.

Robert Stern, an associate professor of neurology at the Boston University School of Medicine and one of Cantu's co-directors of the center, said the group is pleased the NFL is playing a role.

"Although we discussed with the NFL how they might facilitate players' participation in our research into the long-term effects of repetitive head trauma in athletes, we did not request financial support to avoid any real or perceived conflict of interest," Stern said in a statement. "Any financial support from the NFL would need to be free of any real or perceived conflict of interest."

The BU group and the NFL Players Association jointly announced that the union also will work with the center and encourage players to participate in brain studies. Stern noted that the league and union's support will allow research to "move at a much needed faster pace."

Aiello said the league already has held talks with the NFL Alumni Association about suggesting that retired players participate in BU's work by offering their brains for study after they die.