New Hastings Center Special Report – NFL Player Health: The Role of Club Doctors

On November 21, 2016, the Law & Ethics Initiative of the Football Players Health Study at Harvard University, led by the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School, published a Special Report in the Hastings Center Report, entitled NFL Player Health: The Role of Club Doctors. The Special Report consists of multiple parts.

First, the Special Report includes the Law & Ethics Initiative’s main article, entitled A Proposal to Address NFL Club Doctors’ Conflicts of Interest and to Promote Player TrustThis article focuses on the principal recommendation of our recent report, Protecting and Promoting the Health of NFL Players: Legal and Ethical Analysis and Recommendations, for addressing the conflicts of interest inherent in the current structure of NFL player healthcare, in which club medical staff provide services to both the club and players.

The article proposes to “resolve the problem of dual loyalty by largely severing the club doctor’s ties with the club and refashioning that role into one of singular loyalty to the player-patient.” Specifically, club physicians would be replaced by two sets of medical professionals: the players’ medical staff, with exclusive loyalty to the player, and the club evaluation doctor, with exclusive loyalty to the club.

Existing ethical codes and legal requirements are not adequate to ensure that players receive health care that is trustworthy and as free of conflicts of interest as is realistically possible, the article says, making structural change necessary. “This structure – which is flawed even in the absence of ethical lapses by any individual club doctor – may substantially contribute to player health concerns,” it concludes.

Second, the Special Report includes commentaries from a diverse and highly-qualified group of experts, including:

  • Arthur L. Caplan, Lee H. Igel, and Brendan Parent, New York University
  • Richard Diana, former NFL player and current sports medicine specialist
  • Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, current NFL player and offseason medical student
  • Ross McKinney, Association of American Medical Colleges and NFLPA consultant
  • National Football League Physicians Society
  • Mark A. Rothstein, University of Louisville
  • Marvin Washington, former NFL player

The commentaries can be found on the Wiley Online Library.

Finally, the Special Report concludes with the Law & Ethics Initiative’s response to the commentaries.

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