Recommendation: Reduce Contact in Football Practices

By Greg Johnson, of NCAA.org

The Division I Football Oversight Committee on Wednesday endorsed a proposed guideline to reduce the recommended number of live-contact practices that teams conduct each week from two to one. The practice guidelines take effect six days before each team’s 2016 regular-season opening game and run through the final regular-season game or conference championship game.

The guidelines allow players who do not compete in a game in a particular week to participate in an additional live-contact practice to work on skill development and master proper techniques.

The committee made the recommendation during a teleconference Wednesday as a clarification to the inter-association consensus guidelines for in-season football practice contact that the NCAA’s Sport Science Institute helped develop in 2014.

The committee made the recommendation in an effort to improve player safety, believing it could decrease athlete exposure to concussion, including repeat concussion and overall head impact exposure. Data indicate that football players are more frequently diagnosed with sport-related concussion on days with an increase in frequency and higher magnitude of head impact.

Live-contact practices are defined as any practice that involves live tackling to the ground and/or full-speed blocking. A live-contact practice may occur in full pad or half pad (also known as “shell,” in which the player wears shoulder pads and shorts, with or without thigh pads). Live contact does not include “thud” sessions or drills that involve “wrapping up,” because in those scenarios players are not taken to the ground and contact is not aggressive in nature.

To assist schools with applying the definition, the committee also endorsed clarifying that a live-contact practice is any practice that involves players being taken to the ground.

The Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports is expected to recommend the same in-season, live-contact practice guidelines for Division II and Division III football programs.

Posted in College, Football | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Litigation Leads to Change in NFL

(Editor’s note: What follows is a blog post from attorney Paul D. Anderson at NFLconcussionlitigation.com)

The NFL and NFLPA announced new rules aimed at enhancing player safety. Starting this season, teams will be fined and/or face draft-pick penalties if it is determined that they have failed to follow basic safety principles, i.e. the “NFL Game Day Concussion Protocol.”

Per the NFL, this is how the policy will be enforced:

According to the policy, the NFL and NFLPA will each designate a representative to monitor the implementation of the protocol and investigate potential violations. The investigation will not reach medical conclusions; it will only determine whether the protocol was followed. Following the investigation, the NFL and NFLPA will review the findings to determine if a violation occurred and, if so, to recommend the proper disciplinary response. If the parties are unable to agree, the matter will be brought to a third party arbitrator. After conducting a thorough review, the arbitrator will issue a report to the Commissioner, NFLPA Executive Director and the involved parties.

As jointly agreed to by the NFL and NFLPA, the Commissioner retains absolute discretion in determining penalties for violations of the concussion protocol. Potential disciplinary action includes:

A first violation will require the club employees or medical team members involved to attend remedial education; and/or result in a maximum fine of $150,000 against the club.

Second and subsequent violations of the concussion protocol will result in a minimum fine of $100,000 against the club.

In the event the parties agree that a violation involved aggravating circumstances, the club shall be subject, in the first instance, to a fine no less than $50,000. The Commissioner shall determine appropriate discipline for subsequent violations involving aggravating circumstances.

In the event that the Commissioner determines that the club’s medical team failed to follow the protocol due to competitive considerations, the Commissioner may require the club to forfeit draft pick(s) and impose additional fines exceeding those amounts set forth above.

Though some—like me—should rightfully question why it took so long, the NFL and NFLPA should be applauded (golf claps) for their implementation of this policy.

Coincidentally, this new policy was not implemented until after the NFL’s discredited “medical administrator” and former head of the NFL’s MTBI Committee, Elliot Pellman, was finally sent packing.

Perhaps Pellman, who reportedly was involved with the NFL’s ATC spotter program, was a dissident to implementing an enforcement mechanism, and hence this gave the NFL yet another reason—out of a million—to force him into retirement.

More likely, though, this policy was implemented to bar players from filing malpractice lawsuits against team personnel. By making return-to-play decisions and any subsequent investigations and violations part of the collective bargaining agreement process (e.g., “Commissioner retains absolute discretion”), this will arguably trigger Section 301 preemption, forcing all such disputes to be resolved in arbitration rather than by a jury in state or federal court. Put another way, by agreeing to this policy, the NFLPA may have forfeited a player’s right to seek redress for his injuries in a court of law.

For example, imagine if Casey Keenum would have suffered second-impact syndrome after the Rams failed to follow the concussion protocol. Now, instead of a team (or its medical personnel) facing the threat of a jury verdict for millions of dollars as a result of its failure to abide by the NFL Game Day Concussion Protocol, a team will be subject to a $100,000.00+ fine levied by the owners’ hand-picked judge, Roger Goodell.

That’s quite a windfall: the NFL gets positive press for implementing this policy and the owners get to avoid costly litigation.

Whatever the motivations, one thing is certain: the recent rule changes made in the NFL can be directly tied to the litigation that exposed the NFL’s wrongful conduct and in turn forced other leagues and stakeholders to implement concussion protocols. Undoubtedly, the players today are in a much better working environment than the pre-2011 players.

While I won’t say the NFL has been a leader in this realm, it is fair to say that the majority of leagues look to the NFL when it comes to the implementation of concussion policies.

As a result, other leagues such as the NCAA, should promptly implement association-wide enforcement measures which mirror the NFL’s.

This will ensure that the oft-touted platitude of making player safety a priority is more than mere words.

Posted in Football, General, Litigation, Professional | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

NFL, NFLPA Announce New Policy to Enforce Concussion Protocol

The following press release was just issued by the NFL and NFLPA:

Furthering their commitment to protecting the health and safety of NFL players, the NFL and NFLPA today announced an agreement to enforce the NFL Game Day Concussion Protocol and discipline clubs that violate it. Under the new policy, the NFL and NFLPA will follow a strict and fair process to investigate incidents and determine appropriate discipline, including club fines and possible forfeiture of draft picks.

The NFL and NFLPA, in conjunction with their medical advisory committees, implemented the NFL Game Day Concussion Protocol to address the diagnosis and management of concussions. The parties consistently review the Concussion Protocol to ensure that players are receiving care that reflects the most up to date medical consensus. The new policy sets forth disciplinary action against a club should a member of its medical staff or other employee fail to follow the Concussion Protocol.

According to the policy, the NFL and NFLPA will each designate a representative to monitor the implementation of the protocol and investigate potential violations. The investigation will not reach medical conclusions; it will only determine whether the protocol was followed. Following the investigation, the NFL and NFLPA will review the findings to determine if a violation occurred and, if so, to recommend the proper disciplinary response. If the parties are unable to agree, the matter will be brought to a third party arbitrator. After conducting a thorough review, the arbitrator will issue a report to the Commissioner, NFLPA Executive Director and the involved parties.

 

As jointly agreed to by the NFL and NFLPA, the Commissioner retains absolute discretion in determining penalties for violations of the concussion protocol. Potential disciplinary action includes:

  • A first violation will require the club employees or medical team members involved to attend remedial education; and/or result in a maximum fine of $150,000 against the club.
  • Second and subsequent violations of the concussion protocol will result in a minimum fine of $100,000 against the club.
  • In the event the parties agree that a violation involved aggravating circumstances, the club shall be subject, in the first instance, to a fine no less than $50,000. The Commissioner shall determine appropriate discipline for subsequent violations involving aggravating circumstances.
  • In the event that the Commissioner determines that the club’s medical team failed to follow the protocol due to competitive considerations, the Commissioner may require the club to forfeit draft pick(s) and impose additional fines exceeding those amounts set forth above.

The enforcement policy is one of many collaborations between the NFL and NFLPA to improve player health and safety:

  • The NFL and NFLPA launched the NFL Electronic Medical Record (EMR) System across all 32 NFL clubs prior to the start of the 2014 season, resulting in more uniform and detailed injury data. The injury data is reviewed annually by the NFL, NFLPA, their medical advisory committees and the Competition Committee to make changes to the game to improve player safety.
  • The NFL and NFLPA, through the Duke Infection Control Outreach Networks (DICON), implemented an infectious disease prevention and response program across all 32 NFL clubs. As part of that effort, DICON has visited every club and inspected their premises and developed a comprehensive plan to educate players and team staff about infection prevention.
  • Through the Accountability & Care Committee and an independent Credentialing Verification Organization, the NFL and NFLPA implemented league-wide credentialing standards for all members of team medical staffs.
  • The NFL and NFLPA, through a third-party company, surveyed all NFL players in 2015 regarding their opinions on team medical care and other player health and safety issues. The survey, agreed to in the 2011 CBA, was confidential, and the results will be used by the NFL and NFLPA to identify potential areas of improvement in player medical care.
  • This offseason the NFL and NFLPA established the Field Surface & Performance Committee, a joint committee to provide advice and guidance regarding the safety, performance and testing of non-NFL game day and practice surfaces. The new committee will perform research and advise the parties on injury prevention, improved testing methods, and the adoption of tools and techniques to evaluate and improve field surface performance and playability.
  • The NFL, in collaboration with NFLPA-appointed experts, sponsored a study to assess the performance of football helmets worn by NFL players. A poster summarizing the results of the study hangs in all 32 NFL club locker rooms.
  • The NFL and NFLPA jointly sponsored a study to assess the performance of football turf shoes worn by NFL players and determined that certain models presented an enhanced risk of injury.  The parties created a poster summarizing the results of the study and advising players against wearing certain models of footwear which hangs in all 32 NFL club locker rooms.
  • The NFL and NFLPA implemented the Unaffiliated Neurotrauma Consultant (UNC) Program and the Independent Athletic Trainer (ATC) Spotter Program to improve sideline medical care on game day. UNCs, who are independent of either club, are involved in all in-game neurological assessments. Independent ATC spotters in the press box are empowered to call a medical timeout to stop the game and have a player receive medical attention should he show signs of distress or disorientation.

 

Posted in Football, General, Professional | Tagged , | Leave a comment