Safety and the National Football League – now is the time

There are more than 4,000 retired National Football League players and their family members grouped together in what is the biggest lawsuit the NFL and the sports industry has ever faced. The NFL will offer oral arguments April 9 to Eastern District of Pennsylvania, U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody hoping to have the lawsuit dismissed. While the legal games relating to the lawsuit are only beginning, player safety was very much on the minds of NFL leaders during Super Bowl week.

In what was a surprising announcement the National Football League Players Association announced they were going to offer $100 million to fund a study designed to diagnose, treat and prevent injuries in active and retired players.

The study, conducted at Harvard University, will take 10 years. Dr. Lee Nadler, dean for clinical and translational research at Harvard Medical School, spoke this week about the intention of the research.

“We don’t want to lessen the sport,” Nadler said. “We don’t want to make the sport not exciting anymore. But there are ways of making sure that the players’ health is well attended to. I think that’s our objective.

“There are millions of young people who play football here in the United States,” Nadler said. “There are lots of other people who play contact sports — hockey, girls’ soccer, etc. — that are equally dangerous in many ways, and what we learn will also help them.”

The NFLPA putting $100 million of their money into a concussion and safety study sends a loud, clear and concise message to the Lords of the Pigskins, NFL owners – NFL players are very concerned about health and wellness issues on the football field.

“First and foremost, having Sideline Concussion Experts at every game. I am aware that the league recently made an announcement at their press conference. I wasn't there. But I've heard that they have relented in at least some respect with our request to have Sideline Concussion Experts. We have not seen the proposal. But we asked for Sideline Concussion Experts, because this year you reported on a number of high‑profile instances where players were apparently concussed or at least had suffered a sub-concussive hit, and we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the sideline concussion protocol that we all agreed to was not given to those players.” NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith offered.

“If we are in a world today in 2012 where we can see 8, 10, 12 players who have suffered a concussive event on the sideline, and we know that the sideline concussion protocol takes at least 7 minutes to give, if we then see that player put back in the game 45 seconds later, we'd know that the sideline doctors have failed to employ the very protocol that we agreed to use.

“So our solution for that is that we'd have a sideline concussion expert that was not paid by either team. That that person would have one job of making sure that that sideline concussion protocol is in order, and if that person made a determination that that player should not go back in, that player's not going back in. “ Smith said

It’s clear there is a trust issue between NFL players and those responsible when it comes to safety on the football field. Players want independent doctors not those employed by NFL teams determining when or if once a player is injured during a game the player should return to that game.

“On the health side, we will update our injury protocols and add neurosurgeons to our game day medical resources. We are going to implement expanded physicals at the end of each season. Three days to review players from a physical, mental and life-skills standpoint, so that we can support them in a more comprehensive fashion. We want to pioneer new approaches to player health and safety that emphasize prevention as well as treatment. This will include our commitment to supporting our retired players. Those are some of the priorities. From the quality of our game, to growing fan interest and engagement, to our commitment to evolve and innovate, we have many reasons to be optimistic about the future. I could not be more optimistic or ready to go.” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell offered Friday during his annual state of the league.

The issue of trust or a lack thereof between NFL players and team doctors, more than 78% of current NFL players do not trust NFL team doctors.

“Last week, we met for four hours with union officials. Several players were there. Several owners were there. They did raise the issue of making sure we have proper medical attention, but they didn’t raise those statistics. That was news to me as of yesterday. I’m disappointed, because I think we have tremendous medical care for our players. These are not just team doctors. These doctors are affiliated with the best medical institutions in the world – the Cleveland Clinic, Stanford, Hospital for Special Surgery. The medical care that is provided to our players is extraordinary. Now, we will always seek to improve it. We will always seek to figure out how we can do things better, provide better medical care, but I think it’s extraordinary. And as I talk to players – including one yesterday – they feel the same way, but we’ll have to address that and we’ll have to figure out what we can do to try to improve it. One of those I also mentioned in the opening. We’ll add a neurosurgeon on the field that can be there for consultation, that can be there for another set of eyes on the field, and to support the doctors in making the best possible decisions on the field, and off the field. And I believe our doctors do that.” Goodell offered.

The NFLPA has suggested in no uncertain terms the San Diego Chargers team doctor David Chao, needs to go, and much sooner rather than later.

“In San Diego there is a team doctor named Dr.Chao who is currently the San Diego team doctor. Who has been found libel for medical malpractice twice. Twice. The same doctor was the subject of a DEA investigation. He's still the San Diego Chargers team doctor.

“Now, I'm not a doctor. I don't even play one on TV. But it seems to me that the players in the National Football League deserve to have a doctor that's not been fined for medical malpractice, and that's what we're asking for.” NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said.

"In the CBA, at the union’s request, we entered an agreement that is called Article 50. Article 50 states that if there is an issue with any medical decision, or the medical professionals of the club, there can be a solution by engaging with independent doctors, I believe three neutral doctors, including an NFL attorney, and they will review the matter. As I understand it, that is exactly what is going on in San Diego. We’ll allow the process to unfold. I’m confident our doctors make the best possible decisions for the players, and we’re going to stand behind that. We’ll engage in the process and let it unfold.” Goodell countered.

One doesn’t have to read between the lines to understand what Goodell and Smith are saying. The NFLPA have found their “poster boy” in Chao and the NFL wants to let the process the two sides agreed to in the CBA determine Chao’s fate.

The NFL is in the second year of a ten-year CBA. Throughout his state of the union address DeMaurice Smith was attacking the NFL and Roger Goodell. Roger Goodell touched on his disappointment regarding the NFLPA and the CBA, suggested the agreed process was important to adhere too. Two years into a ten year CBA, the fun and games off the field have only begun.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom