Congressional Report Identifies Serious Health Concerns Not Addressed by NFL and Players Union

Posted April 9th, 2008 by RetiredPlayers

John Conyers NFL NFLPA

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 [

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.

Baltimore Ravens NFLPA Player Representative Says Union “Must Begin to Prepare for a Change in Leadership Immediately”

Posted April 8th, 2008 by RetiredPlayers reports Baltimore Ravens union representative, Matt Stover, sent an e-mail to other NFLPA player representatives on Monday which outlined a plan to have a new union Executive Director in place by March of 2009.  The following is a copy of the e-mail sent by Stover:

Executive committee and reps,

After the conference call on Wednesday, April 4th, I believe that the NFLPA is ready to begin a national search process to find a new Executive Director. As you are completely aware of our election process, Gene’s contractual situation, and our looming battles against the owners in the coming years, I feel that the Board must begin to prepare for a change in leadership immediately. I believe we have the proper environment with our teammates and leadership within the board to execute the process of this selection. To be “Open and Transparent” is critical for the body to back our possible selection, as well as our outside critics.

I want to make this clear: I have no personal agenda as I would hope everyone else would as well. I only want what is best for the Union and our teammates and my intentions are to establish a healthy leadership for years to come. I believe that whoever the candidate would end up being has the opportunity to gain valuable insight and experience to lead future generations of players.

With that being said, I would suggest to the Executive Committee to:

1. Form a sub-committee (3-5 members) to lead the process. The members should have the time and resources to fully commit to this all-important process.

2. Use Board Designated Funds to hire an outside consultant, Executive Head Hunter or Search Firm to aid in the collection of candidates from both the outside and within the NFL world.

3. Form a list of 8-10 candidates by no later than the start of training camp.

4. Use any means necessary (personal meetings in home cities or another city or teleconference) to interview candidates, with completion by the end of the 2008 football season.

5. Form a final list of 3 candidates by Jan. 1, 2009 that will be interviewed by the entire Executive Board from Jan. 1-Feb. 15 (6 weeks to interview 3 candidates again, by any means).

6. The entire Executive Committee select 1 candidate to be recommended to the Board of Reps. at the 2009 March NFLPA meeting.

As I recommend this process, I fully realize this is just 1 man. However, I was on that conference call and I am not the only Rep. who listened and felt that it is time for a change. As I make this suggestion, I will only hope that every one of us will put any personal agenda aside and remember who each of us represent. Both the old and young players in our locker rooms have voted us in because they trust our judgment. This is about the future of our organization. Not now … not 1 or 2 years from now, but 5, 10, 15 years from now. Thanks.

— Matt Stover

In response to Stover’s email, Upshaw told ESPN, “Matt Stover has no clue. Whoever is pulling his chain is doing a disservice to the union. I could understand the idea that they need to get rid of me if I wasn’t doing a good job but, shoot, the owners are mad because they think I’ve done too good of a job.”

It is promising to see these words from Stover.  Players should be encouraged to think independently about their labor situation.  Upshaw obviously thinks Stover is unable to think for himself and believes someone is “pulling his chain.”

Based upon a seven day account of CBA negotiations in 2006 by the SportsBusiness Journal, no active players were involved in the negotiation process between the union and the NFL management council.  Not even the NFLPA President attended the negotiation meetings.  Many union representatives, including members of the NFLPA Executive Committee and then-NFLPA President Troy Vincent, were attending the NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Programs held at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Kellogg School of Management while an agreement on the latest CBA was reached.