Posted on February 1, 2013 · Posted in Brain Injury

More than three-quarters of National Football League players surveyed said they don’t trust their team’s medical staff, the union representing the athletes said Thursday.

And they may have very good reason to be untrusting of these docs, as the Los Angeles Times reported that the union, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), was asking the San Diego Chargers to replace the team’s physician, Dr. David Chao, because he has been found liable of medical malpractice.

The NFLPA did its annual Super Bowl press conference Thursday in New Orleans, and not surprisingly, much of the discussion was about concussions. The survey results were also disclosed there.

Union officials not only talked about their decision to grant Harvard Medical School $100 million to do broad, long-term research on player safety, but about measures they are still seeking from the league.

The union’s executive director, DeMaurice Smith, talked at length about the players’ wish list. First and foremost, he said, is having a sideline concussion experts at every game.

“I am aware that the league recently made an announcement at their press conference,” Smith said. “I wasn’t there. But I’ve heard that they have relented in at least some respect with our request to have sideline concussion experts.  We have not seen the proposal.”

Smith said, “We asked for sideline concussion experts, because this year you reported on a number of high‑profile instances where players were apparently concussed or at least had suffered a sub-concussive hit, and we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the sideline concussion protocol that we all agreed to was not given to those players.”

He continued, “If we are in a world today in 2012 where we can see 8, 10, 12 players who have suffered a concussive event on the sideline, and we know that the sideline concussion protocol takes at least 7 minutes to give, if we then see that player put back in the game 45 seconds later, we’d know that the sideline doctors have failed to employ the very protocol that we agreed to use.”

Said Smith, “So our solution for that is that we’d have a sideline concussion expert that was not paid by either team. That that person would have one job of making sure that that sideline concussion protocol is in order, and if that person made a determination that that player should not go back in, that player’s not going back in.”

He said, “That is something that I’m hoping the National Football League he has finally agreed to, but it’s also something that we have committed ourselves to filing a grievance if we need to in order to get those sideline concussion experts utilized in our game.”

Smith pointed out that sideline concussion experts have been endorsed by the American College of Emergency Physicians and the American Academy of Neurology.

The union is also requesting credentialing, for the first time, of every medical and training personnel on teams.

“What that simply means is that we the National Football League Players Association and player representatives want to make sure who are the individuals caring for our players in treating them, and this is important, treating them as patients,” Smith said.

“We ask the league to engage in this credentialing program with us, so that we would know the backgrounds,” he said. “We’d know whether or not any of them have had charges against them for malpractice, any judgments against them for malpractice. We wanted to engage in a discipline process where we understood exactly who was providing our care.”

Said Smith, “Unfortunately, the league did not agree with our credentialing process. Once again, that is something that we hope they would change our minds on. But, as you know, in probably somewhat a familiar refrain, we are prepared to file a grievance.”

The union also had some of its player-members take a survey that offered some insightful information. The survey found that 78 percent of the players polled said they don’t trust their team’s medical staff.

“Now the only scary part is that the only place where that might actually be news is for people who don’t play football,” Smith said.

About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447