Study: NFL should break ties between doctors, teams

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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Medical personnel caring for NFL players should no longer report to team management or coaches, according to a Harvard Law School report published Thursday.

The recommendation comes in a 493-page reportfollowing a two-year study by The Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard Law Schoolinto the "various stakeholders who influence, or could influence, the health of NFL players."

"Our report shows how the various stakeholders might work together to protect and support NFL players who give so much of themselves -- not without benefit, but sometimes with serious personal consequences -- to one of America's favorite sports," said Glenn Cohen, professor of law at Harvard Law School and co-lead of the law and ethics initiative as part of the study. "NFL football has a storied history and holds an important place in this country. The men who play it deserve to have their health safeguarded and their health concerns addressed. We hope our recommendations in the report serve as a catalyst for this important work."

About 175 doctors work with NFL teams. While both players and teams have a shared interest in player health, the study notes that a player may feel compelled to return from an injury more quickly than recommended and that the doctor's role as a team employee creates a conflict of interest in making those decisions.

"The intersection of club doctors' dual obligations creates significant legal and ethical quandaries that can threaten player health," according to the report.

The report instead recommends that doctors and trainers not directly communicate with teams about player health. It proposes a written "Player Health Report" that would include their condition, a recommended level of participation in practice and games, and an estimated time before they are back to full participation. Separate team doctors would have access to that report and could consult with team officials but would not handle any treatment.

Also among the 76 recommendations in the report are that doctors treating players should be selected by a neutral committee with representation from both the NFL and NFL Players Association, that health issues should not be used in collective bargaining agreement negotiations and that there should be a separate short-term injured reserve for players diagnosed with a concussion.

The NFL has challenged the study's findings. According to The Washington Post, Jeffrey Miller, the NFL's executive vice president of health and safety, sent the researchers a 33-page response rejecting the idea that NFL doctors have conflicts of interest. He called the study's proposed changes "untenable and impractical."

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league would study the report and discuss the recommendations with its clubs and medical staff and the union.

The research was funded by the NFLPA, although Harvard officials insisted the research was independent of player or league influence.

Additional reports are scheduled to be released regarding other legal and ethical issues affecting player health.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.