By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The NFL cares deeply about fractions of PSI in footballs. The NFL cares very little about the health of its players.
That is at least one argument made in a grievance filed against the league which was publicized this week, one which “alleges that the NFL and clubs have ‘disregarded … explicit CBA requirements as they apply to the proper, legal, medically ethical prescription, dispensing, and transportation of prescription painkillers.”
“The NFL and its Clubs, including medical and legal personnel, have conspired to continue to violate the CBA and actively conceal such violations from the Players and their union, the NFLPA,” NFLPA general counsel Tom DePaso wrote.
It’s a fight that has persisted for some time, as the numerous instances of painkiller abuse and overprescription around the NFL have been well documented. But in this most recent filing, the NFLPA used the NFL’s extreme focus on the Patriots in DeflateGate as an example of the league putting its time and resources into a cause when it feels necessary.
Here’s the excerpt, from pages 7 and 8 of the document:
“Indeed, the Complaint indicates that the NFL was clearly cognizant of on-going legal and ethical violations by medical personnel relating to the prescription, dispensing and transportation of painkillers to players, yet the NFL has taken no disciplinary action against Clubs and/or medical personnel who committed, and presumably still commit, such violations.
Having recently punished the New England Patriots to the tune of forfeiting first- and fourth-round draft picks plus a $1 million fine for alleged conduct relating to taking a tiny amount of air out of footballs, it is incomprehensible that the League has taken no action whatsoever against Clubs to redress and incentivize compliance with their Article 39 obligations towards the health and safety of NFL players.”
It’s a strong point.
Of course, the obvious counterpoint is to note that one violation at least theoretically involved the competitive balance in the NFL, while the other is a separate issue. But that difference is, in this instance, beside the point.
The point is that if the NFL identifies a potential problem, it can throw its hefty resources behind a movement to remedy the issue. In the case of DeflateGate, it involved paying millions of dollars to Ted Wells to run an investigation, it involved commissioner Roger Goodell overstepping the bounds of fundamental fairness so that he could serve as arbitrator in an appeal of a decision that he himself initially made, it involved a further investment in the payment of attorney Daniel Nash for the arguing of the case at the federal level and then the hiring of Paul Clement to argue the case at the appellate level. The highest-ranking NFL officials (Goodell, Jeff Pash, Troy Vincent among them) were deeply involved in the case, and no expense was spared — all for an alleged CBA violation which they were never able to actually prove.
It’s quite the contrast to the painkiller situation, in which the league has overlooked several known instances of violations.
From the claim, which was dated April 28:
–The DEA investigated the San Diego Chargers after a player was found in possession of 100 doses of Vicodin. The DEA also investigated the New Orleans Saints concerning the theft of controlled substances. Team physicians had an “above-the-law” mentality when it came to abiding by federal laws restricting travel with prescription drugs, including a Dallas Cowboys team doctor who said that Jerry Jones “knows members of Congress and he’ll get the law changed.”
–The Buffalo Bills’ doctor testified that he traveled with controlled substances and administered them to players “even after being informed that they could not travel with controlled substances.”
–The Buffalo Bills’ trainer testified that he regretted the medical staff’s lack of warnings to players about the risks of taking certain medications.
–The Steelers administered 7,442 doses of NSAIDs, compared to a league average of 5,777 doses, during the 2012 calendar year.
As is well publicized, the league routinely punishes players for violating the league’s policy on drugs. Yet, as the NFLPA makes clear, teams have not been held accountable for clear violations of the policy.
The NFLPA also claimed that ignorance is not an applicable excuse.
“These admitted CBA violations by Club medical personnel are even more troubling in light of the fact that all Club medical staffs were explicitly reminded of their clear CBA obligations relating to medical care in a September 2013 joint communication from the NFL and NFLPA, which was disseminated in response to another instance of misconduct by a Club physician,” DePaso wrote. “Notwithstanding this notice, Club medical staffs have continued to willfully disregard their CBA obligations.”
Admittedly, the fight between the NFLPA and NFL will persist for as long as the league exists. And in a sport as punishing as football, there will always be a demand and a need for painkillers.
The battle over the league’s stance on painkillers is not one that will be solved easily, especially not with Goodell making public statements about the league’s firm stance against marijuana — a drug which Goodell claims is addictive. The league’s mistreatment of players is what led to a lawsuit brought on by 1,800 players in March.
And in the latest volley from the NFLPA, the union is using instances of the NFL caring when it wants to and ignoring other more serious issues to show that the league is simply not acting with the best interests of its players in mind.