While the NFL’s player health policies and practices are robust in some areas, there are opportunities for improvement in others, according to the findings of a newly released report by researchers at The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.
The report, published today, is the first comprehensive comparative analysis of health policies and practices across professional sports leagues. The research is part of the ongoing Football Players Health Study at Harvard University.
The analysis compares the NFL’s player health policies, including those related to club medical personnel and conflicts of interest, injury rates and policies (such as detailed statistics regarding concussion and other injuries), health-related benefits, drug and performance-enhancing substance policies and compensation and eligibility rules, with those of Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer and the Canadian Football League.
Acknowledging important differences among these sports, the authors of the report conclude that there are some notable disparities in best practices when it comes to common issues related to player health and well-being that may not necessarily be sport-specific. The findings, the authors say, underscore opportunities for these organizations to learn from one another in light of their shared interest in player health.
“In many respects the leagues and their games are very different as we acknowledge in the report,” said I. Glenn Cohen, Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and Co-Lead of the Law and Ethics Initiative of the Football Players Health Study at Harvard University. “Nonetheless, they face some common issues where they have the opportunity to learn from one another given their shared interest in player health.”
Specifically, the report reveals variations in health care policies and practices between the NFL and other leagues. Some of these variations include:
- Preseason physicals performed by a neutral physician
- Concussion-specific short-term injury list
- Injury reporting policies that do not require disclosing the location of a player’s injury
- Providing lifelong health insurance to former players
- Allowing players to be vested in pension plans on their first day in the league
- Providing treatment for players who violated performance-enhancing substance policies
Details are described in the Executive Summary of the report.
The research was conducted as part of the Law and Ethics Initiative of the Football Players Health Study at Harvard University. The research is independent and not directed by the NFL, NFLPA or any other stakeholder. The article’s content, findings and conclusions are solely the responsibility of the authors, and do not represent the official views of the NFLPA, the Football Players Health Study at Harvard University or Harvard University. These entities exercise no control over the findings or recommendations.
For more information on the report and the Law and Ethics Initiative, please see the Frequently Asked Questions from the report.
The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School is a research program devoted to interdisciplinary analysis and legal scholarship in these fields. The Center’s work involves public engagement, academic programs, sponsored research and independent scholarship.
Launched in 2014, the Football Players Health Study at Harvard University is composed of select studies and research initiatives addressing the whole player over the course of his entire life. The study is funded pursuant to an agreement with the NFLPA, and utilizes shared resources across supporting institutions at Harvard University.
Washington Post, “Harvard study suggests some NFL health and safety changes” (May 15, 2017)
Sports Illustrated, “Harvard’s Advice for NFL Player Health and Safety” (May 15, 2017)