AP Poll Says NFL Players Don’t Fully Trust Their Team Doctors
Playing for the NFL means that you are virtually guaranteeing that you will be injured on the job. There is just absolutely no way to avoid it. Taking that into consideration, you'd think that the players would be provided with the best medical care possible and the best doctors available. But according to the Associated Press, that may not be the case.
In an AP survey of 100 NFL players released on Sunday, a too-high percentage of the league's players feel as though the care provided them by their respective teams is subpar, or at the very least, unfairly based on the player's overall value to the team. One player that is cited multiple times across the report is Denver Broncos' defensive lineman Antonio Smith, whose appearance in the Super Bowl with be is 179th game played since the middle of the 2005 season. And according to the AP report, his health may have something to do with the fact that he is proactive about seeking healthcare outside of the team.
"Rather than crediting particularly proficient care from the four teams he’s been with, Smith says he managed to suit up week after week after week thanks in large part to what he arranges on his own.
'You’ve got to get yourself a good system. Chiropractor, massage therapist, stretch therapist. A lot of guys are doing IVs now,' Smith said. 'Take care of your body. You’ve got to do that. If the team doesn’t supply it, you spend the money.' "
It's more than a little depressing to think that these guys - who make the NFL billions every year - have to pay out of pocket to maintain the standard of care for their bodies that will allow them to actually continue to play; and in turn, continue to sacrifice their health for the sake of the NFL.
Of the 66 players interviewed that had 4+ years of experience in the league, 65% did not answer 'yes' to the question "Do you think NFL teams coaches and team doctors have players' best interests in mind when it comes to injuries and player health?"
Essentially, these numbers show that the longer players have been in the league, the less they believe that they are being fully taken care of by the team-provided medical staff. That obviously makes sense. The longer that players have been brutalizing their bodies in the NFL, the more likely they are to break down and therefore rely on the medical staff.
Other players went on to tell the Associated Press that they don't always trust the team because they believe that ulterior motives are at play.
“ 'Some of the guys I hear stories from, they don’t trust the team opinions. (Teams are) pushing guys and telling them to ‘Go!’ Jacksonville Jaguars running back Denard Robinson said. 'That’s crazy. That’s crazy to hear that. ' ”
A couple of players mentioned the 'conflict of interest' inherent to a team doctor’s job. One labeled players 'the asset' that medical staffs need to rush back as soon as possible. Another said 'everyone knows' the quality of care depends on the size of a player’s paycheck.
'It’s their job to make you playable,' Detroit Lions safety Don Carey said. 'There’s a lot of pressure on them to keep guys on the field.' "
These sentiments aren't exactly revelatory, as suspicions that team doctors and staff have been pressured or outright blackmailed into remaining silent about football-related injuries have floated around for a long time now. The most obvious example is the role they played in covering up and denying the widespread damage of concussions, leading to a successful (albeit still unacceptable) lawsuit settlement by former players who had endured prolonged health problems after careers in the NFL.
What's more problematic is the rhetoric surrounding physical risk in the NFL, as if players should just accept possible life-altering injuries without regard for how their employer will compensate them down the line.
“ 'Injuries are as much a part of the game of football as blocking and tackling,' is the way Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin put it..."
“ 'I try to be the hammer and not the nail. If you worry about injuries, you tend to be very timid and things like that, and you end up getting hurt,' said [Carolina Panthers] tight end Ed Dickson. 'I know it’s a concern. I just try not to think about it.' ”
“ 'Just like the NFL tells us, there’s a 100 percent risk of injury,' said New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler"
Let me just say that "just like the NFL tells us" is a terrifying sentence.
Yes, I get that compensation for retired players can be a slippery slope; but is it that hard to draw the line? Injuries to the knee or a screwed up achilles or a bum shoulder are all things that will nag the body as it ages, but they won't shorten a person's life span. Those injuries can and should be accepted hazards of playing football.
But when you start talking about developing CTE or Parkinson's disease after repeated head trauma, it's an entirely different story. Just because players know the risk doesn't mean they shouldn't be compensated if their lives are altered irreversibly while working for the NFL. If the league were held more financially responsible for players who suffer from these conditions later in life, perhaps the care that players receive from their teams would improve and fewer men would be put back on the field before they're ready.
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