The Pro Football Concussion Report

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

Where has the NFLPA been in the Concussion Debate?

Paul Tagliabue and Gene Upshaw, 2005 (AP)


The recent PBS Frontline documentary about NFL concussions, League of Denial, has renewed the debate about the NFLPA’s role in the concussion controversy and litigation between the NFL and former players. While representing the league in the April Philadelphia court appearance between NFL and player attorneys, the NFL’s heavyweight Supreme Court lawyer Paul Clement stated that the players union was the party responsible for the treatment of retired NFL players. Also reporting on the hearing, attorney Eric Sable added that:


“And let’s not forget about the NFLPA, who thus far have escaped culpability.  When asked multiple times about the NFL’s responsibilities for player safety, Clement strategically put it in the context of a shared role with the players, the NFLPA, and the NFL member clubs.  Reading between the lines, if this case gets past the motion to dismiss stage, expect the NFLPA to be impleaded.”


Last Wednesday, Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk (the NBC Sports website) took the filmmakers of League of Denial to task for not including any mention of the NFLPA in the film. Florio’s main point seems to be that NFLPA leaders like Gene Upshaw were made aware of some of the same corollating information about brain damage that the film alleges the NFL had, but failed to communicate to its players. The reader comments to Florio’s piece are very interesting in that they almost universally acknowledge the film’s powerful case against the NFL. Prior to the film, many of the comments in similar articles regarding the concussion litigation would be mixed with things like “these guys knew what they were signing up for” and “they blew their millions, now they just want more money.” But the public’s perception (at least as measured through comments on sports blogs) seems to be changing.

Regardless of the documentary’s possible shortcomings,  the incredible film effort alone seems to have already made a considerable dent in the lack of awareness that has existed about the NFL’s role in allegedly misinforming its players about the long term dangers of repeated concussions.

On Friday, the NFLPA responded to Florio’s criticism by saying that in regards to labor unions, it is the owners responsibility for insuring the workplace is safe. Separately from the NFPLA’s role in informing the players about the long term dangers of concussions is the issue of providing medical assistance for its members. Journalist Patrick Hruby pointed out that the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) already provides $22 million annually (and up) that:

“shall be dedicated to healthcare or other benefits, funds, or programs for retired players as determined by the NFLPA”

Hruby suggests that this money could be used immediately to help care for former players who are suffering the most from the long term effects of football concussions. At the time of Hruby’s article, the NFLPA had not responded to any of Hruby’s prior requests for information regarding how the $22 million has been allocated.


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