A Harvard Law School report published Thursday said medical personnel caring for NFL players should no longer report to team management or coaches.
The 493-page report titled "Protecting and Promoting the Health of NFL Players: Legal and Ethical Analysis and Recommendations" was released following a two-year study by the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology and Bioethics.
"Our report shows how the various stakeholders might work together to protect and support NFL players who give so much of themselves -- not without benefit, but sometimes with serious personal consequences -- to one of America's favorite sports," said Glenn Cohen, professor of law at Harvard Law School and co-lead of the law and ethics initiative as part of the study. "NFL football has a storied history and holds an important place in this country. The men who play it deserve to have their health safeguarded and their health concerns addressed. We hope our recommendations in the report serve as a catalyst for this important work."
Approximately 175 doctors work with NFL teams. Players and teams have a shared interest in player health, the study noted a player might feel compelled to return quicker than recommended from injury and the role of a doctor as a team employee creates a conflict of interest in those decisions.
"The intersection of club doctors' dual obligations creates significant legal and ethical quandaries that can threaten player health," the report said.
Instead of trainers and doctors directly communicating with teams about player health, the report proposed a written "Player Health Report." The report would include the condition, recommended participation level in practice and games and estimated time before a player can return to full participation.
In the report's proposal, separate team doctors would have access to the "Player Health Report" and consult with team officials but would not handle treatment.
The "Player Health Report" is one of 76 recommendations.
The report also recommended that doctors treating players should be chosen by a neutral committee with representation from both the NFL and NFL Players Association. It also recommended that health issues should not be used in collective bargaining negotiations and there should be a separate short-term injured reserve for any player diagnosed with a concussion.
According to the Washington Post, Jeffrey Miller, the NFL's executive vice president of health and safety sent researchers a 33-page response rejecting the idea NFL doctors have conflicts of interest. He described the proposed changes as "untenable and impractical".
The NFLPA funded the research, although Harvard officials insisted the research was independent of player or league influence. Further reports regarding other legal and ethical issues affecting player health are scheduled to be released.