The NFL's Shady Ways

How would you feel if you could only access your medical records twice a year? Or better yet, what if your boss was holding back information about hazards related to your job?

About two weeks ago, the House Judiciary Committee declaredthat the National Football League, along with its Players Association (NFLPA),was “subject to a variety of conflicts of interest which appear to bedetrimental to players,” and warned the organization that it may step in if newregulations are not imposed soon. The reaction stems from a 145-page Congressional Research Report on players’ disabilities and benefits. This is not the first time the NFL hasdrawn negative publicity due to its indifferent attitude toward the health ofits players. Just last year, the House Judiciary Committee called into question the NFL's record-keeping processes on disabled players. There's also the League's disgusting history of ignoring concussions in football andtheir link to other medical problems like depression, which was brought to theforefront of the sports world last year when ex-NFL star Andre Waters committed suicide.Forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu reported that Waters had “the brain of an85-year-old with signs of Alzheimer’s disease before he killed himself,” andthat “multiple concussions caused or severely worsened Waters’ brain damage.”Finally, something is being done to rectify these problems, and to protect theplayers, who are entitledto have accurate information on the physical toll that the game has taken on theplayers before them so that they are fully aware of the risks associated with thegame. What seems to be happening here is that the NFL would rather chance itsplayers’ health than come clean about the chronic conditions and risks that areassociated with league play.

The new study found that the NFL has consistently selectedindividuals and organizations that are affiliated with the league to leadresearch projects on the health of its players. This is obviously a practicethat draws negative attention, mostly due to the obvious conflict of interestand possibility of being secretive about findings that may have a less-than-desirable reflection on the league. In addition, the study also found thatplayers have very limited access to their own medical records. In fact, theyare currently only permitted to view medical and athletic trainer files twice ayear; an allotment of one viewing in the preseason and another following the endof the regular season. The Committee noted that the rationale for this limitedaccess is “unclear.” Once again, secretive behavior calls attention toquestionable policies by the NFL. On top of this, the NFLPA has littleauthority over health issues; does not have any committees designated forinjuries, safety, or health; and has only a part-time medical advisor.

Equally as troubling, no organization (including the NFL)tracks retired players’ health. The CRS report mentions that “neither theplayers association nor the league collects data on number or percentage ofplayers who retire because of an injury or injuries.” This is especiallyproblematic when considering that the NFL estimates that 181 players were forced to end their careers because they were unable topass preseason physicals due to injuries between 1993 and2004. Information on the health of theseplayers could have helped play a role in getting help to players like Andre Watersbefore it was too late.

In the coming months, look for the NFL to amend some of itspolicies and processes regarding the health of its players. The sad part isthat it won’t be out of concern for the players; rather, it will be because they areforced to by a higher power that has finally taken into consideration theafter-effects of a career in such a physically and mentally brutal sport.