Smith Takes On Player Safety In Annual Address; Calls For CBA Amendments
Player safety was the "theme" of NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith's annual Super Bowl press conference Thursday, as he "identified player-safety concerns and amendments the union would like" added to the 10-year CBA that was ratified in '11, according to Jim Trotter of SI.com. The union wants "independent concussion experts on the sideline of every game." The league Thursday announced that it will have "'unaffiliated neurological advisors' on the sideline of all games beginning next season, but a union source was wary." The NFLPA also wants each team's medical personnel "to be credentialed." This came after the union "challenged the league's commitment to player safety on Monday, going so far as to call some teams' behavior 'reckless' when diagnosing and treating players." Smith "pointed to Chargers physician David Chao as an example." He said that Chao has been "found liable of medical malpractice twice and was the subject of a DEA investigation involving pain-killer prescriptions." Smith: "It seems to me that the players of the National Football League deserve to have a doctor who has not been found liable of malpractice." Trotter noted the NFLPA asked the NFL to stop teams from "requiring players to sign liability waivers before receiving the pain-killer Toradol." The organization also would like to amend the CBA for the "addition of a neutral Chief Safety Officer to oversee the health, welfare and safety of the players." The NFLPA late in the season "polled all 32 teams and asked players to rate, among other things, their trust in the club's medical staff on a scale of one (complete) to five (not at all)." Seventy-eight percent of an "unspecified number of respondents said not at all." NFLPA President Domonique Foxworth: "We had a meeting with the league last Friday, and I made it very clear to them that it's very difficult for both of us to collaborate and do our jobs and move the ball on a lot of issues because of the level of distrust created by the actions that they've taken" (SI.com, 1/31).
DOCTOR'S ORDERS: The NFL on Thursday emphasized that team physicians should still retain ultimate control over whether a player returns to action. That appears to conflict with the NFLPA, as Smith said that the decision should reside with the neurologist. At a player safety press conference, believed to be a first at the Super Bowl, NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash said the neurologist would be an adviser to the team physician, and disagreed the league had “conceded” the issue. The NFL in the past has resisted the move of having doctors independent of the teams on the sidelines. Pash said he expected the neurologists to be on the sidelines for the '13 season (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal). In N.Y., Ken Belson noted working out the "details of how outside doctors would be selected, paid and deputized has been difficult." Team doctors, who are "around the players during the entire season, are considered to be in the best position to determine whether a player has sustained a concussion." Adding an extra doctor on the sidelines could "provide a useful check, but also create confusion" (NYTIMES.com, 1/31).
BOUNTY SCANDAL A HOT TOPIC: In New Orleans, Larry Holder notes it "took only about 20 seconds for Smith to reference" the bounty scandal, as he called the NFL's "pursuit against the four previously suspended players 'personal.'" Smith said, "For the players who were involved and their fans, was it a little bit personal for us given the connection between this city and the team that they love? Yes. And I'm never going to apologize for it. Our job was to defend and represent our players. And there's never going to be a day where we or I will apologize for doing anything less." Foxworth said that the league's "handling of the bounty scandal displayed to him how challenging it's become to anticipate how the league will handle player issues." He said, "It would be reasonable to think that they would value regaining their employees' trust. But I mean there's no indication that they are going to work in that direction. I hope they do" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 2/1).
GIVE & TAKE ON HGH: Foxworth said that the NFL and NFLPA are "close to an agreement on HGH testing," and Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti "said the same thing to a small group of reporters." USA TODAY's Mike Garafolo reports in a game of give-and-take, the "give for the NFLPA is to allow HGH testing, but the take they'd like to have is independent arbitration for penalties levied across the board, not just for HGH-testing issues." The union also "wants a more standard scale and definition of why players are fined as much as they are for on-field conduct, such as illegal hits" (USA TODAY, 2/1). Foxworth said, "The league, their No. 1 focus -- at least they say their No. 1 focus -- is health and safety. And we say our No. 1 focus is health and safety. How come we have such a hard time moving the ball on some health and safety issues?" Foxworth "mentioned the use of replacement officials, the NFL's desire for an 18-game season, the increased slate of Thursday night games and the New Orleans Saints bounty investigation as examples of items that have driven a wedge between the players and the league." He said, "All those things are happening, and our players see it and they lose trust" (AP, 1/31).
18-GAME SCHEDULE STILL ON TABLE: NFL Exec VP/Football Operations Ray Anderson said that an 18-game schedule “is still on the table," but it is "going to be discussed at length” with the NFLPA. Anderson: "There are legitimate questions about the impact on safety. As we continue to look towards ways of making it better and safer that debate will continue. But yes, it’s still something that will be discussed” ("Costas Tonight," NBC Sports Network, 1/31). But NBC’s Hines Ward said, “Players are starting to realize how serious concussions are, so I don’t even know why this is still on the table. I think Roger Goodell should just veto the proposal.” Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio: “It’s impossible to reconcile player safety with adding two more weeks of games” (“PFT,” NBC Sports Network, 1/31). NBC Sports Network’s Michelle Beadle said it is “shocking” the NFL is still pushing an 18-game schedule, but “we know it’s money.” NBC Sports Network’s Dave Briggs: “It’s hard to imagine that you argue that we’re trying to protect player safety but we’re going to expand. ... The NFL doesn’t come off real well in this argument” (“The Crossover,” NBC Sports Network, 1/31).
LOT OF WORK STILL TO BE DONE: NFL Network’s Andrea Kremer said following the NFLPA's press conference, “The thing I came away with today listening to both the players’ association as well as the league is the great divide that still exists on player health and safety issues. They know how important it is, but there are so many details still to be worked out” (NFL Network, 1/31). Anderson referenced President Obama's statement last month about not wanting a son to play football and said the “challenge we have as a league is to make sure that we are doing everything we can with regard to player health and safety so that we can mitigate some of those types of concerns that parents reasonably and rightfully have.” Anderson: “We have a platform for player health and safety. We’re going to lead in that effort aggressively and we’re going to do it without being apologetic or defensive about it” (“Costas Tonight,” NBC Sports Network, 1/31).