Former NFL Players: Disabilities, Benefits, and Related Issues
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Halchin, L. Elaine
[Excerpt] Professional football is a very popular sport, and the physical nature of the game of football is part of its appeal, but, at the same time, playing the game can exact a physical and mental toll on players. Violent collisions, as well as other aspects of the sport, can and do cause injuries. Each week during the season, the National Football League (NFL) releases an injury report that lists, for each team, players who are injured, the type or location of the injury (for example, "concussion," "knee," or "ribs"), and the players' status for the upcoming game. During the 2007 season, aside from weeks one and eight, at least 10% of NFL players were identified each week as being injured. Players' injuries and current health conditions (for example, excess weight and sleep apnea) might have long-term consequences for their health, meaning that today's injury might become a chronic health problem or disability during retirement from the NFL. The issue has received considerable attention from Congress, including hearings in both chambers. Through collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiations and other discussions, the NFL and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) have established a number of benefits, including retirement benefits (that is, a pension), severance pay, total and permanent disability benefits, and an annuity program. Some benefits are available to all players, while other benefits are available only to players who played in the NFL during certain years. Additionally, some benefits have eligibility requirements. Funds for benefits that are included in the CBA come from the portion of the league's total revenues that is allocated to the players. Apparently, the NFL and the NFLPA determine how to fund other benefits. The NFL and the NFLPA have taken steps to promote the health and safety of players. The league has established several committees, such as the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI) Committee, and, through NFL Charities, awards grants for medical and scientific research related to health and safety issues. The NFLPA has a medical advisor and a performance consultant, and there is an NFL-NFLPA joint committee on player safety. The subject of injuries, disabilities, and benefits is a complex one, and there are a variety of issues surrounding this subject. For example, it has been argued that the way compensation is structured within the NFL might induce an individual to play while injured instead of seeking medical treatment. The oldest retired players might make up a subset with exceptional financial and medical needs, because they (1) might not have been protected as well as current players are; (2) might have received medical care that, while the best available at the time, was not as effective as the care available today; and (3) are not eligible for all of the benefits available to current players. Another issue involves MTBI research and whether multiple concussions might have long-term effects. The NFLPA proposed three legislative options in 2007. Other possibilities include establishing one or more ombudsman offices or taking steps to mitigate the economic risk of injuries and disabilities. This report will be updated as events warrant.
professional football; National Football League; NFL; injury; disability; retirement; public policy; Congress; NFL Players Association; NFLPA