NFL doc­tors on the wrong team

Dis­clo­sures of al­leged pre­scrip­tion-drug abuses should prompt the league to ac­cept the need for fur­ther re­forms.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

“ARE THE physi­cians look­ing out for the health of the play­ers, or are they just try­ing to keep them on the field?” That was the ques­tion posed by a lead­ing med­i­cal ethi­cist in light of al­le­ga­tions that team doc­tors for the Na­tional Foot­ball League en­gaged in ques­tion­able, and pos­si­bly il­le­gal, use of pre­scrip­tion drugs to man­age player pain.

It is not a new ques­tion; it’s also been asked in con­nec­tion with the league’s lag­ging re­sponse to con­cus­sions and other in­juries suf­fered by play­ers. That the sub­ject is still be­ing raised ex­poses the fun­da­men­tal prob­lem with how NFL play­ers are treated: Doc­tors who de­cide whether a player is healthy enough to play are em­ployed by teams that have a stake in the game.

A re­view by The Post’s Rick Maese of sealed court doc­u­ments in a fed­eral law­suit against NFL teams by for­mer play­ers painted a dis­turb­ing pic­ture of the use of pow­er­ful painkillers and anti-in­flam­ma­to­ries. The ac­count in­cluded de­scrip­tions of teams vi­o­lat­ing fed­eral pre­scrip­tion drug laws, dis­re­gard­ing guid­ance about con­trolled sub­stances from the Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion and giv­ing med­i­ca­tion to play­ers with­out telling them what they were get­ting.

A spokesman for the NFL dis­missed the al­le­ga­tions as “mer­it­less.” NFL teams and their med­i­cal staffs, Brian McCarthy told The Post, “con­tinue to put the health and safety of our play­ers first, pro­vid­ing all NFL play­ers with the high­est qual­ity med­i­cal care. Any claim or sug­ges­tion to the con­trary is sim­ply wrong.”

So why did only 47 of 100 play­ers who were sur­veyed by the Associated Press say they thought the league’s clubs, coaches and team doc­tors have the ath­letes’ best in­ter­ests at heart? Even more damn­ing were the re­sults of a two-year player health study by re­searchers from Har­vard Univer­sity, which found “an un­de­ni­able con­flict of in­ter­est” in the league’s cur­rent sys­tem. “The in­ter­sec­tion of club doc­tors’ dual obli­ga­tions cre­ates sig­nif­i­cant le­gal and eth­i­cal quan­daries that can threaten player health,” ac­cord­ing to the 493-page re­port re­leased in Novem­ber.

The Har­vard re­port noted that play­ers and teams have a shared in­ter­est in health, but there are ar­eas when those in­ter­ests di­verge, such as when a player wants to re­turn to play from an in­jury more quickly than rec­om­mended in or­der to avoid ter­mi­na­tion of his con­tract. No mat­ter how prin­ci­pled or well-in­ten­tioned the doc­tor, re­searchers wrote, there is an in­her­ent con­flict of in­ter­est in serv­ing two mas­ters.

Among the re­port’s rec­om­men­da­tions were sep­a­rat­ing med­i­cal teams that pro­vide care for play­ers from staff who eval­u­ate play­ers for busi­ness pur­poses, and ban­ning doc­tors who treat play­ers from re­port­ing to team man­age­ment or coaches. The NFL rec­og­nized the value of in­de­pen­dent med­i­cal judg­ment when it in­sisted that un­af­fil­i­ated neu­ro­trauma spe­cial­ists be sta­tioned at all games to ap­prove the re­turn of any player who has suf­fered a con­cus­sion. The re­cent dis­clo­sures of al­leged abuses should prompt the league to ac­cept the need for fur­ther re­forms.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.