Fred Taylor, a former NFL player who retired in 2008, has a viable claim for negligence against either the NFL or former teams that he played for due to injuries recently discovered that resulted from playing the sport. What is strange about this lawsuit is that Fred Taylor is not asserting that his injuries stem from concussions, but that they instead have caused other deteriorating health effects. Specifically, Taylor says that NFL doctors failed to reveal major shoulder injuries to him during the course of his career.
Fred Taylor played running back for thirteen years in the NFL. He played on the Jacksonville Jaguars for eleven years and the New England Patriots for two years. Taylor is fifteenth all time in rushing yards, but only went to the pro-bowl one time due to nagging injuries. Even though Taylor had a long, successful career, he was referred to as “Fragile Fred” due to his tendency not to play the whole sixteen game season as a result of injuries.
After an appointment with orthopedists in Chicago, doctors alerted Taylor to the fact that had a fractured clavicle and two torn labrums (one in each shoulder).
After retiring in 2011, Taylor started utilizing his retirement benefits offered under the current NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The CBA outlines that the NFL will only pay for medical examinations five years after a player retires. Since Taylor’s insurance was about to expire, he decided to get a comprehensive exam. After an appointment with orthopedists in Chicago, doctors alerted Taylor to the fact that had a fractured clavicle and two torn labrums (one in each shoulder). The injuries were identified pursuant to eleven MRI’s and twelve x-rays.
During his later years of playing, Taylor complained to the training staff and team doctors about shoulder pain but the staff replied that his injuries were a result of fatigue. Taylor continued to play relying on the information provided to him by his designated medical staff.
He speculated as to whether neutral doctors used by the NFL to examine his injuries had ignored health issues that would have kept him off the field of play or led to better medical benefits after his career.
While a formal pleading has not been filed, Taylor has alluded to his opinion that he has a viable negligence action against the NFL through twitter. He speculated as to whether neutral doctors used by the NFL to examine his injuries had ignored health issues that would have kept him off the field of play or led to better medical benefits after his career. Despite this speculation, Taylor has made it clear that he will not pursue action against the NFL. His twitter rant was merely an outlet to make other players consider some of the pitfalls to being in the league. He also emphasized that it is his duty to make the league better as did the players who played before him.
The preseason physical details how trainers and doctors only have to x-ray the chest for defects such as tuberculosis, tumors, and lesions.
What is interesting is that Taylor’s recently discovered injuries could help promote better benefits for future NFL players in the next CBA, specifically, player’s rights to medical care and treatment.
Under Section six of Article 39 of the CBA, players are subjected to the minimum preseason physical which is outlined in Appendix K. The preseason physical details how trainers and doctors only have to x-ray the chest for defects such as tuberculosis, tumors, and lesions. While the players are happy to receive this treatment, the fact is that the current yearly physical exam does not regularly check for injuries that one would reasonably expect from playing a violent sport such as football. The administration of x-rays other than those required, is left to the discretion of the team doctors. The team doctors administer these x-rays based on symptoms and previous injuries. If players have not had significant injuries to a given body part or do not complain about an injury enough, doctors can decide that the injury is usual wear and tear from playing, instead of investigating further.
Given the nature of Taylor’s injuries, the current structure of the physical under the CBA is ill equipped to identify the injuries that Taylor sustained during his career. During the course of Fred Taylor’s career, he suffered pulled hamstrings, ankle injuries, a thumb injury, and the most notable, a groin tear where the groin muscle separated from his leg. Most of these injuries involve his lower body. Since Taylor’s most significant injuries only occurred in his lower body, his significant upper body injuries flew under the radar of medical personnel.
“Players are reluctant to tell training staff and doctors that they are concussed and are no longer capable of performing on the field.”
Admittedly, Taylor could have downplayed the injuries to his shoulder or could have even told the doctors to not bother administering other exams. However, Taylor is not a doctor and it behooves him to report as little as possible in order to get playing time, thereby receiving more money. The doctors have a responsibility to diagnose foreseeable injuries while considering what the player is likely to tell them. This responsibility has become more prominent in light of the recent concussion controversy. Players are reluctant to tell training staff and doctors that they are concussed and are no longer capable of performing on the field. It is up to the doctors to administer tests, listen to the player’s symptoms, and arrive at a diagnosis that best protects the player from future injury despite the player’s insistence that they are healthy. This same standard should be applied to other physical injuries that may occur as a result of playing football. Expanding the pre-season physical exam could better enable the training staff to identify severe injuries even in the face of players downplaying the pain, thereby better protecting the players against long-term injury.
Line of duty benefits are medical benefits that a former player is entitled to if that player incurs a substantial disablement arising out of NFL football activities.
Another way the CBA could be improved is to expand the pool of doctors permitted to assess players seeking line of duty benefits.
Line of duty benefits are medical benefits that a former player is entitled to if that player incurs a substantial disablement arising out of NFL football activities. A player is not bound to team doctors for examinations. Any player can seek second opinions from doctors other than those supplied by NFL teams. However, when a NFL player is seeking benefits through the line of duty benefits for injuries sustained while playing, he must choose from a pre-approved list of doctors assembled after negotiations between the NFL and National Football League Players Association (NFLPA). A contributing factor that led Taylor to hypothesize that the team doctors were concealing his injuries was the fact that he was denied line of duty benefits three times before eventually receiving them. Taylor’s injuries were also the types that are meant to be covered.
It is unlikely that there was any wrongdoing given the fact that Taylor had played for two different teams, thereby seeing two different doctors who missed his shoulder injuries. However, suspicion of collusion between team doctors and the league has been a concern by players for years. Many players are not comfortable with the idea that a selected group of doctors determine not only the extent of injuries, but also whether the NFL should have to provide disability benefits. Perhaps either expanding the pool of doctors eligible to make line of duty determinations or enacting measures that better ensure the neutrality of doctors, may be the solution needed to protect player’s interests.
Taylor’s claims of negligence may not be a viable suit, but the circumstances surrounding his injuries shed light on how improvements to player benefits should be explored in the next CBA negotiations. The next CBA will be negotiated in 2020. While there are several battleground issues to be discussed such as rookie contracts, disciplinary procedures, etc., the most important negotiations should revolve around player health and benefits after their careers are over. Taylor’s injuries highlight how dependent retired players are on the NFL benefits, especially medical coverage. Given the dependence on medical benefits, improvements to pre-season physicals and new measures that ensure doctor neutrality would help identify serious injuries and better protect NFL veterans into retirement.