NEW ORLEANS — The NFL Players Association revealed Thursday at its Super Bowl week news conference that a recent poll of its players showed they don’t trust their teams’ medical staffs.
Seven-eight percent of those who responded to the survey did “not at all” trust team medical staff, and 93 percent had at least some level of mistrust. When it came to the training staffs, it was a 50-50 split of those who felt their teams did a better-than-average job or were below average. Sixty-three percent said they were not satisfied with their team’s injury management.
It was unclear how many players were surveyed and how.
“Our goal, our purpose and our obligation for existing is to defend the rights of our players,” NFLPA president Dominique Foxworth said. “That’s where it starts and that’s where it ends for us. We’ve shown decisions, as a body of players, that we understand our obligation.”
NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith outlined three specific issues the NFLPA would like to have the league address with amendments to the current collective bargaining agreement. In addition to an independent sideline concussion expert at each game, the NFLPA would like credentialing of team medical staff and for the league not to request a player to sign a waiver of liability before a team doctor prescribes the drug Toradol.
The NFLPA also would like the league to adopt four postulates to help make the game safer for the players — 1. That the game of football has risks; 2. That injuries are a necessary and foreseeable consequence in the business of football; 3. That if you are injured while playing football, you will receive the best medical care; and 4. If you have lingering medical conditions based upon the injuries you sustained at work, your employer will take care of you.
“We want to know who’s providing the care to our players,” Smith said of credentialing team medical staff. “For us, it would start with what we would get from the National Football League: the name, where the person went to school, who are they affiliated with, what their practice area is. We want to do a deeper dive. We want to know if there’s been any complaints against the doctor for malpractice. We want to know if there’s any judgments against them. We’d like to know detailed information about how the teams selected their doctors.”
Earlier in the day, the NFL held a health and safety news conference where Dr. John York, co-chairman of the San Francisco 49ers and chairman of the NFL Owners’ Committee on Healthy and Safety, said he had never seen a team doctor pick the needs of the team over the needs of a player. He reiterated the players’ health comes No. 1, always.
“Trust maybe cascades through the relationship with the player,” said Dr. Anthony Yates, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ team physician and president of the NFL Physicians’ Society. “In terms of independence, I had a revelation from my daughter who told me, ‘Well, Dad, don’t you get $10 from every patient that you see as the co-pay?’ ‘Yeah, but I’m really in the pocket of Medicare because I get the majority of money from Medicare and the health insurance company.’ So there is some parallel there. All these physicians in this society that work for their individual teams can leave tomorrow and they’ll lead a very financially rewarding life. They do what they do because they love it.”
Also, during its news conference, the NFLPA announced a $100 million partnership with Harvard University for a comprehensive examination of player health and safety. The 10 schools and 17 academic healthcare centers affiliated with Harvard University will interview players and then invite them to campus for further evaluation in addressing “medical ethics, sports medicine, repetitive brain trauma, wellness, aging and cardiovascular disease, as well as other topics relevant to players.”
The $100 million was negotiated as part of the players’ revenue in the most recent collective bargaining agreement.
“Our plan is to help define what really happens, what makes someone relatively well and someone relatively unhealthy,” said Dr. Ross Zafonte, chair of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Massachusetts General Hospital. “We can do some important things: 1. Enhance our ability to prevent injury; 2. We can make better diagnoses; 3. We can mitigate early injury or enhance resilience, or ability to tolerate injury. Lastly, we can define a better pattern of treatment.”
– Matt Florjancic, ClevelandBrowns.com Staff Writer