Drawing on expertise from across Harvard University’s schools and its affiliated academic healthcare centers, the goal of the Football Players Health Study (FPHS) at Harvard University is to understand the causes of the physical and mental health conditions afflicting former NFL players, with the goal of improving their health and wellbeing, while furthering our understanding of the benefits – and the risks – of participating in football.

FPHS began in 2014 in part through an award from the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA). The Study largely utilizes funds allocated for research by the collective bargaining agreement. Many of the resources utilized by this initiative are shared across supporting Harvard institutions.  FPHS is an independent research study. The research is not directed by the NFL, NFLPA, or any other external stakeholder, nor do any of these organizations exercise control over the research direction, findings, or recommendations.

FPHS is working on prevention, diagnostics, and treatment strategies for the most common and severe conditions affecting professional football players. We are focused on the integrated health of football players, not solely one concern or condition. In addition, the Study is working to understand the legal and ethical issues that may promote or impede player well-being, and developing responsive recommendations to resolve them.

Additional information about the Football Players Health Study is available here

Law and Ethics Initiative

 

The Law and Ethics Initiative of the Football Players Health Study is led by the Petrie-Flom Center.  Key projects are described below:

Protecting and Promoting the Health of NFL Players: Legal and Ethical Analysis and Recommendations

Investigators:                        Christopher R. Deubert, JD, MBA 

                                                I. Glenn Cohen, JD

                                                Holly Fernandez Lynch, JD, M.Bioethics

Summary:  This initiative identifies stakeholders in player health, analyzes their legal and ethical obligations, evaluates current successes, and identifies gaps and opportunities for each stakeholder in protecting and promoting player health. Finally, it applies a series of legal and ethical principles to arrive at recommendations for positive change where needed. The stakeholders discussed are: NFL players, the NFL, NFL clubs and personnel, NFL coaches, NFL club medical staff, second opinion, neutral and personal doctors, the NFLPA, contract advisors, financial advisors, equipment managers and manufacturers, players’ family members, officials, the media, NFL business partners, and fans. Our report includes more than 70 recommendations aimed at improving player health. 

Read the full report.

Order the print version (priced at cost) here.

Read the NFL’s response to the report, as well as the authors’ reply.

Hastings Center Report – Special Report: A Proposal to Address NFL Club Doctors’ Conflicts of Interest and to Promote Player Trust

Investigators:                        Christopher R. Deubert, JD, MBA 

                                                I. Glenn Cohen, JD

                                                Holly Fernandez Lynch, JD, M.Bioethics

Summary: This project urges the NFL, NFLPA, and other stakeholders to adopt the principal recommendation of our 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. Read the article here.

The authors received commentaries from a diverse and highly-qualified group of experts, including lawyers, bioethicists, a former player, a former player who is now a doctor, a current player who is also a medical student, an NFLPA consultant, and the NFL Physicians Society, the organization that represents NFL club doctors. Read the commentaries here. The authors published a response to the commentaries, which can be read here.

Evaluating NFL Player Health and Performance: Legal and Ethical Issues

Investigators:                        Jessica L. Roberts, JD [University of Houston Law Center]

                                                Christopher R. Deubert, JD, MBA 

                                                I. Glenn Cohen, JD

                                                Holly Fernandez Lynch, JD, M.Bioethics

Summary: This Article follows the path of a hypothetical college football player with aspirations to play in the National Football League, explaining from a legal and ethical perspective the health and performance evaluations he will likely face throughout his career. Some of these evaluations are commonplace and familiar, while others are more futuristic—and potentially of unproven value. How much information about themselves should aspiring and current professional players be expected to provide in the employment context? What are the current legal standards for employers collecting and acting on an individual’s health‐ and performance‐related information? Drawing on disability law, privacy law, and the law governing genetic testing, this Article seeks to answer those questions, as well as to provide recommendations to better protect the health and privacy of professional football players.  More information and a copy of the Article are available here.

Comparing Health-Related Policies and Practices in Sports: The NFL and Other Professional Leagues

Investigators:                        Christopher R. Deubert, JD, MBA 

                                                I. Glenn Cohen, JD

                                                Holly Fernandez Lynch, JD, M.Bioethics

Summary: This initiative examines the policies and practices of the NFL that concern player health, comparing them to those of other major professional sports leagues and organizations, including Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, the Canadian Football League, and Major League Soccer. The goal of the Comparative League Analysis is to determine if there are ways the NFL can better support the safety, health, and welfare of its players, or ways in which the NFL’s policies are superior to those of the other leagues and organizations. The report includes approximately ten recommendations to improve player health, and will be released in early 2017. 

Qualitative Study/Listening Tour 

Investigators:                        Sarah McGraw, PhD [The Hastings Center]

                                                Christopher R. Deubert, JD, MBA 

                                                I. Glenn Cohen, JD

                                                Holly Fernandez Lynch, JD, M.Bioethics

Summary: This study consists of a series of one-on-one interviews that solicit direct feedback from approximately 40-60 current and former players and their families. The goal is to better understand the perspectives of these key stakeholders on the following topics: overall NFL experience, improving player safety, health, family and social issues, support as a professional athlete, life after football, risk disclosure and risk taking, healthcare and club medical staff; medical screenings, and, injury and pain management. Findings from this study will inform the NFL, NFLPA, and other stakeholders on how to better understand and prioritize action concerning player health matters. 

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The Law and Ethics Initiative team also works to advise on legal and ethical issues that may arise in other components of the Football Players Health Study.

To learn more about the Football Players Health Study at Harvard University, please visit the Study’s website here, and watch the video below:

 

 

Football Players Health Study Staff:

I. Glenn Cohen, JD

Lead, Law and Ethics Initiative, Football Players Health Study

Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Faculty Director, Petrie-Flom Center

 

Holly Fernandez Lynch, JD, MBioethics

Co-Lead, Law and Ethics Initiative, Football Players Health Study

Executive Director, Petrie-Flom Center

Faculty, Center for Bioethics, Harvard Medical School

 

Christopher Deubert, JD, MBA

Senior Law and Ethics Associate, Petrie-Flom Center

Football Players Health Study 

 

 

Justin Leahey

Project Coordinator, Petrie-Flom Center

Football Players Health Study