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CRS Report to Congress on Former NFL Players: Disabilities, Benefits, and Related Issues

CRS Report to Congress on Former NFL Players: Disabilities, Benefits, and Related Issues

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Published by Robert Lee
This is the final 145-page report submitted in 2008 by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) to Congress on Former NFL Players: Disabilities, Benefits, and Related Issues,
This is the final 145-page report submitted in 2008 by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) to Congress on Former NFL Players: Disabilities, Benefits, and Related Issues,

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Published by: Robert Lee on Nov 09, 2012
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11/20/2013

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The extent of the NFLPA’s authority and capabilities regarding health and safety
issues, and its position on such issues are, at times, unclear. For example, the NFL
has a number of committees that deal with injuries, safety, and health. Apparently,
the NFLPA does not have any similar committees or entities, although, along with
the NFL, it is part of the joint committee on player safety and welfare.334

The
NFLPA has a medical advisor; but, apparently, this is not a full-time position, for the
current advisor is CEO and president of BestPractices and chairman of the
Department of Emergency Medicine, Inova Fairfax Hospital.335

Additionally, it is

unclear what resources, including staff, are available to the medical advisor.

The NFLPA apparently is not included in discussions about proposed rule
changes that may affect the health and safety of players. Furthermore, the description
of the process for addressing rule changes that might adversely affect player safety
shows that, ultimately, neither the joint committee, the players association, nor the

CRS-113

336

Ibid., p. 12.

337

Ibid., pp. 12-13.

338

Letter from Goodell and Upshaw to NFL players, pp. 1-2.

339

National Football League and NFL Players Association, NFL Collective Bargaining
Agreement, 2006-2012, p. 199. Having access to one’s medical records, albeit only twice
per year, apparently is an improvement. As quoted in the New York Times in 2002, Gene
Upshaw noted the following changes to players’ medical care: “‘Before 1986-87, guys could
not select the doctor for their surgery, they could not get second opinions and they could not
even see a copy of their medical records.... All of that is in place now.” (Thomas George,
“Care by Team Doctors Raises Conflict Issue.”)

340

National Football League and NFL Players Association, NFL Collective Bargaining
Agreement, 2006-2012, p. 199.

arbitrator (if one is involved) has authority to modify or rescind a potentially
problematic proposed rule change. (The issue of rule changes is discussed above.)

The subject of MTBI research and guidelines, in particular, raises several
questions regarding whether the players association has sufficient capacity and
authority to participate effectively in matters involving safety and health issues. For
example, while members of the MTBI Committee have been involved in an ongoing
dialogue with other professionals in the field of neurology (as documented above),
it appears that the NFLPA has not commented publicly on any of the issues, such as
the possible long-term effects of concussions and the possibility that multiple mild
traumatic brain injuries could result in CTE. The NFLPA has “supported and/or
participated in several studies concerning the physical effects of playing professional
football.”336

Those studies include “[s]tudies conducted by the Center for the Study
of Retired Professional Athletes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,
including the ‘Recurrent Concussion and Risk of Depression in Retired Professional
Football Players’ study done by Dr. Kevin M. Guskiewicz and others in 2006.”337

A joint NFL-NFLPA letter on concussions and concussion management noted
that the NFLPA’s medical advisor had attended the June 2007 “concussion summit”
and that he “will remain closely involved” in ongoing projects involving MTBI
research.338

The extent of the authority of the NFLPA medical advisor regarding the
committee’s decisions, actions, and recommendations is unclear, as are his possible
courses of action, if any, should he disagree with the decisions of the committee.
Additionally, the NFLPA’s involvement in the MTBI’s development of the
concussion management guidelines and, specifically, the return-to-play guidelines is
unclear.

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