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"NIGHTLINE" TAKES HARD LOOK AT THE NFL'S HEALTH CARE
Published November 2, 1994
ABC's "Nightline" examined player injuries in the NFL and "the conspiracy of silence" some NFL team officials maintain towards treating players and securing medical care programs with local hospitals. Dr. Lon Castle of the NFL Physicians Society is speaking out about deals between local hospitals and teams: "We don't want to see the quality of care, that we believe is excellently delivered to the athletes, compromised by money and big business." Dr. Russell Warren, N.Y. Giants team physician: "I've had players ask me specifically, ... 'Does that mean I'm out for the highest bid?'" The report went on to examine the packages considered by the NFL's two newest franchises from different groups seeking to handle the teams' health care. JACKSONVILLE: Two major medical groups were "pitted against each other. Major hospitals trying to attract the hottest patients [Jaguars players] in town, with a lot more than medical care." Frank Pierce, an official of a hospital that lost the bid for the Jaguars, said that his 5-year, $4.8M offer included $200,000/year for team physician fees, $60,000/year for trainers fees and $500,000/year in advertising commitments -- but also the team was seeking "certain advertising commitments or tickets and skyboxes." Pierce: "The list was self-evident. [The Jaguars] did not want the perception that the hospital was buying this contract." The winning hospital, Baptist Health Services, became a "proud new member of the Jaguars owners circle of sponsors, joining a bank and a beer company." Baptist's Bill Mason said while the deal is simply to provide health services, he did not rule out some cross-promotional with the Jaguars. Jaguars VP Michael Huyghue: "The hospitals spend ... a singificant amount of money on reaching the community and advertising. So the fact that we have a component to our industry which reflects that, I just don't see where the conflct comes in." But 49ers team physician Michael Dillingham asked of the relationships between teams and care providers that are also sponsors: "Does this mean I have to be forced into an alliance with a large institution ... whether they're good or not?" CAROLINA: ABC's Armen Keteyian said Castle, Dillingham and other top NFL team doctors "particularly fear steering players into official hospitals ... looking for a return on their investment," instead of sending the players to nationally-known specialists. While the Panthers officials initially sought sponsorship deals as part of hospital proposals, Panthers GM Bill Polian ultimately decided to base the decision on who would provide the team's health care "solely on medical issues." However, Keteyian reports that the Charlotte medical center chosen by the team did commit $150,000 for team medical supplies "in exchange for the right to bill itself as the Panthers' official health care provider. The club's new team physician told 'Nightline' he would resign if the medical center exerted any undue pressure." However, when asked what he would think if the Panthers went to another hospital, Carolinas Medical Center VP Alan Taylor said, "I can't imagine that happening under this situation, because this is a managed care contract" ("Nightline," ABC, 11/1).