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The NFL Has a Sports Medicine Problem (fixed)

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Posted 10-01-2022 at 10:07 AM by neugey

After seeing the Tua concussion on Thursday Night Football and listening to a lot of media members speak on the topic, it seems like there is a lot of tunnel vision right now with everyone fixated on solving concussions. It was indeed a scary injury, and I hope Tua will be okay. But due to recency bias, I feel people aren't seeing that the events of this last week are a symptom of a bigger medical problem in the NFL.

I'm not going to be afraid to take big swings in this blog, because based on what we've seen lately, there are certainly a great deal of failures in the NFL with player health. I don't claim to be right with all of my assertions. I'm certainly a ways off with some of them. But I love football and the Saints, and I think taking a step back and seeing the big picture is necessary and vital right now.

The NFLPA is one of the most feckless sports organizations to ever exist, almost down there with the NCAA. Even with all the money rolling into the NFL, they can't even fight for the guaranteed contracts that are prevalent in most other professional sports. They're good for paper-thin threats and weak sound bytes when major news breaks out - and that's about it.

The area where the NFLPA comes up short the most often is the health and safety of its players. When you cut through the crap, it feels like players are pretty much on their own when trying to handle health and treatment differences with their day-to-day boss, the NFL team. This was evident over the past few years with the Michael Thomas situation, which got downright divisive and nearly ruined our relationship with the star wide receiver for good.

When I visit my doctor, itís a whole different experience than when an NFL player is treated. I canít imagine being in a vulnerable and injured state and wondering whose interests my doctor really has in mind. I canít expect to relate to what a player like Michael Thomas has gone through.

The core problem is this: any team physician has an inherent conflict of interest between the players he treats and the financial interests of the organization that pays and insures him. In the NFL, which is experiencing a huge financial boom due to the giant broadcast contracts and its new alliances with sports betting companies, the conflict of interest can only be magnified. The player himself already has his own inner struggle, weighing his own health versus his financial outlook. On top of that, he is caught in the middle between his interests and the teamís concerns. When you also add in fame, social media and the pressures of the outside world, his sense of duty to his teammates Ö itís no wonder the player has a hard time making clear decisions. Itís a situation thatís made worse if the player is dealing with head trauma.

There needs to be a professional in the room that understands the medical situation and has (or at least attempts to have) the playerís long-term health interests at heart. The team trainer/doctor, unless he is of exceptional integrity and willing to put his job on the line regularly, is not going to be considering in the playerís quality of life as much as is needed.

This is where the currently inept NFLPA comes in. They need to fight for their players and bargain for every team to have itís own NFLPA-provided team doctor (with possibly also a few assistants) that is involved in the player health decisions. The team doctor and NFLPA can work together or independently as needed, but the key is that both are involved in the major decisions. If at any time one or both of the doctors feels a player should not be participating, the player is removed from the game or practice ASAP. This approach will create its own problems, and is sure to result in a lot of infighting between the NFL team, itís doctor and the NFLPA doctor(s) on assignment. And that is the point - there needs to be a lot of conflict and hard conversations that need to occur in order to derive better outcomes for player health.

If this solution is implemented, then as a whole, a more cautious approach to player health will be the result. This means more players will be held out of action and IR counts will be larger. Roster sizes in NFL will need to be increased to offset this. Perhaps an increase of roster size to 55 active/60 total players will be sufficient. Maybe something higher is needed.

The current Unaffiliated Neurotrauma Consultant (UNC) should be scrapped in favor of this new NFLPA-oriented approach. After the Tua concussion nightmare, itís fair to question how ďunaffiliatedĒ the UNC truly is, as it is an entity overseen by the NFL to a certain degree. Maybe some of the current UNC personnel can act as advisors to the NFLPA, so that the NFLPA can actually become more intelligent with regard to concussions rather than just providing empty lip service.

There are some positive possibilities with my plan in place. RGIII might still be playing in the league. Tyrod Taylor might not have to sue the Chargers on his own. The Michael Thomas ordeal could have been a far shorter and less painful experience, for the fans, the team and Thomas himself. Maybe Junior Seau would still be alive today. When you consider all that, we have a long way to go and there is a lot that could certainly be tried if the NFL could ever put its financial interests aside for a minute or two.

Of course my solution would have several drawbacks that I am not even thinking of. It also would not be an easy thing for the NFLPA to bargain for. But the NFLPA needs to grow a pair, hire some better lawyers, and become a peer - not an underling - of the NFL. And the NFL itself would certainly shudder at my proposal. My response to Goodell and the NFL: ďtoo freaking badĒ.
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