The Pro Football Concussion Report

A Fan's Look at Head Injuries and the Concussion Crisis in Football

The NFLPA finally gets into the Head Games

11.14.13

For the last several litigious years, the NFLPA has been able to pretty much stay on the sidelines while hundreds of personal injury attorneys signed up 4,500 former players in multiple concussion lawsuits against the NFL, and in some cases against Riddell, the helmet maker.  But the union’s involvement with the cognitive well-being of former players (to the NFLPA, players with a minimum of 2 years in the league) just took a giant step forward with the announcement that the NFLPA has created a program *mandated by the 2011 CBA to help players make a successful transition from professional football “with an emphasis on overall health.”   It’s great that the NFLPA is finally stepping up to fulfill its commitment, but the odd-timing of this program and the choice of the program’s NFL-affiliated medical partners deserves a closer look.
*2 months ago, in a piece on SportsonEarth.com, journalist Patrick Hruby uncovered the fledgling existence of this program in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement (Section 5 pg.78) negotiated between the NFL and and the players union.

 

First of all, the $765M proposed settlement over the NFL concussion litigation is expected to cover the cost of similar neurological medical exams as the NFLPA “Trust” program offers. How will the NFLPA sponsored exams differ in procedure, diagnosis and impact on a player’s ability to successfully participate in medical procedures dictated by the settlement?  The exact details of the proposed settlement are supposed to be revealed any day now in the formal proposal to be approved by Federal Judge Anita Brody.  Once the details of the settlement are known, it will be much easier for a player to make a decision on a course of medical care related to neurological or cognitive testing. It’s just too early to make an educated decision on neurological testing that could have unforeseen, but significant implications.

Second, choice of doctors is very important. Right now there are several different procedures, technologies and diagnoses being offered by different medical institutions. UCLA for instance has recently been working on efforts to diagnose CTE in living persons. This may have critical impact upon former players and their ability to collect on funds earmarked in the NFL concussion settlement. In addition, the proposed settlement offers “independent” medical exams. Now, “independent” is a key word often tossed around by the NFL itself to suggest independent of the NFL’s influence. But finding appropriate “independent” neurologists might not be that easy, because the NFL has spread a lot of money around to different hospital groups and academic institutions for neurological research and programs. It would be naive to assume that the medical opinions rendered by doctors during these NFLPA exams could not have ramifications on future NFL-related benefits, independent health insurance programs and potential compensation in the concussion lawsuit. Although team owners seem quick to give away vast sums of money to 18 year old players who have a good day at the combine, allegedly the valve shuts pretty tight once players start getting older, hurt and then eventually retire. Retired players have to be very mindful of not only costs, but consequences when selecting medical care.

The NFLPA Trust program has pre-selected specific hospital groups and medical programs for former players to conduct medical examinations:

The Cleveland Clinic
The Neurological Institute and the Cleveland Clinic have partnered with the NFL for years. In 2010, they received $124,000 from NFL Charities for a study on shoulder instability. In 2011 they received $100,000 from NFL Charities for a study on concussions, helmet design and youth football. A list of other NFL grants shows additional grants to the Cleveland Clinic in 2005 and 2006.

Tulane University
The Neurology and Physical Medicine departments at Tulane began working in conjunction with the NFL almost 2 years ago.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
UNC continues its very close relationship with the NFL and their shared point man, Kevin Guskiewicz, PhD, ATC.  Guskiewicz, in addition to being an outspoken member of the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee is heads several different University of North Carolina NFLish Sports Research groups including The Center for the Study of Retired Athletes, The Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center, and The Brain and Body Health Program. In a review of the recent NFL concussion book, League of Denial, Patrick Hruby points out a surprising quote from Guskiewicz revealing his comfortable relationship with NFL Executive Vice-President (and former Covington and Burling attorney) Jeff Pash.

 

For his part, Guskiewicz goes from being a NFL outsider and harsh critic of the league’s denial to a member of its revamped concussion committee — and someone who now criticizes research linking football to neurodegenerative disease using the same arguments the NFL once used against his own research making the same link. He tells the book’s authors that he doesn’t “want people to think that I was bought,” yet also admits when he needs “big dollars” for football collision research, he goes to NFL executive Jeff Pash and says “Jeff, we need to buy six new systems, and it’s going to cost $250,000 to install; can you authorize the purchase? And Jeff then does that.”

 

Certainly each of these reputable institutions provide expert care in regard to medical services and neurological testing. The issue with the former NFL football players though is that they are about to receive the details of a significant program (concussion settlement) that offers similar medical evaluations with perhaps far larger implications in regard to potential financial compensation. For the former football players who may be covered under both programs, it may be important to carefully consider which program and which doctors to see and why. Before proceeding with a medical exam, particularly a neurological exam, it would be prudent to discuss the options with an attorney who is familiar with both the NFLPA Trust Program and perhaps more importantly, the concussion settlement terms and conditions.

 

Related Articles:

Where has the NFLPA been in the Concussion Debate?

Just who does receive the NFLPA’s $22M in healthcare funds each year?

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