Congressional Report Identifies Serious Health Concerns
Not Addressed by NFL and Players Union
House Judiciary Committee to Hold Further Hearings;
Examine Possible Legislative Remedy
(Washington, DC)- House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) and Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee Chairwoman Linda Sánchez (D-CA) today announced the release of a 144-page report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) recommending legislation to address the health problems faced by professional football players, and also released the responses to questions posed by the Committee to the NFL and NFLPA.
Initiated by a bipartisan request, the CRS report examined the types and severity of health problems suffered by current and former National Football League (NFL) players focusing on the disability benefit programs and the health and safety initiatives of the NFL and NFL Players Association (NFLPA).
“I commend the NFL and NFLPA for having taken some affirmative steps since our last hearing, but in my view they still fall short of the goal line,” said Conyers. “This report identifies major concerns about the long-term health of NFL players that demand further attention. The Committee intends to hold hearings and explore possible legislation to address this matter.”
“This report clearly demonstrates that the NFL and NFLPA need to make serious efforts to collect data on player injuries and eliminate the conflict of interest by team doctors who place the financial interests of their teams ahead of players’ health. The NFL cannot expect to simultaneously be team owner and referee,” said Sánchez. “After further reviewing the proposals suggested by CRS, I plan to work with my colleagues on legislation addressing several of the issues raised in the report.”
The report concluded that:
- The injury rate for NFL players was nearly eight times higher than that of any other commercial sports league, including hockey and auto racing.(See footnote #1)
- Neither the NFL nor the NFLPA maintain data on the number or percentage of players who retire because of injury.(See footnote #2)
- Former players find access to health benefits very difficult.(See footnote #3)
- The current system is subject to a variety of conflicts of interest which appear to be detrimental to players — Medical care provided by the team for its players raises serious conflict of interest concerns as a team physician must balance the players’ health concerns with those of the coaches and owners who expect players to play injured.(See footnote #4)
- The NFLPA has very limited authority and capabilities regarding health and safety issues, devoting only a part-time advisor to attend to these matters.(See footnote #5)
The Committee requested the CRS report and documents in response to the testimony at the Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee’s June 26, 2007 hearing, “The National Football League’s System for Compensating Retired Players: An Uneven Playing Field?” In that hearing, former players Mike Ditka, Harry Carson, Curt Marsh, and Brent Boyd detailed injuries sustained during their playing days that continue to hamper them today. They also recounted the complex process that deters many former players from receiving disability benefits.
The full text of the CRS Report may be found HERE. The Committee has posted on its website the full text of the NFL and NFLPA responses to the Committee’s questions as well as supplemental documents from the NFL and the NFLPA.
1. “Reportedly, the 2003 NFL injury rate was nearly eight times higher than that of any other commercial sports league, according to the U.S. Department of Labor – and that includes the National Hockey League, the National Basketball Association, and professional auto racing.” CRS Report p. 8; Carl Prine, “Bloody Sundays,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Jan. 9, 2005, available at [http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/
2. “Comprehensive data about the health of former players apparently are not collected and maintained, either by the NFLPA or the NFL, or by a third party. Neither the players association nor the league collects data on number or percentage of players who retire because of an injury or injuries.” CRS Report p. 4.
3. “Overall, from July 1, 1993, through June 26, 2007, 1,052 individuals applied for LOD [Line-of-Duty] or T&P [Total and Permanent] disability benefits: 428 applications were approved; 576 were denied; and 48 are pending. The approval rate, which does not include the cases that are pending, is 42%.” CRS Report p. 82.
4. CRS Report p. 115. The NFL has also consistently selected individuals and organizations that are affiliated, either directly or indirectly, with the NFL to conduct research on subjects and issues related to player health. CRS Report p. 123.
5. “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. The NFLPA has a medical advisor; but, apparently, this is not a full-time position.” CRS Report pp. 111-112.