In May 2017, the Petrie-Flom Center completed its three-year statement of work leading the Law and Ethics Initiative of the Football Players Health Study (FPHS) at Harvard University.  The Law and Ethics Initiative studied legal and ethical issues that promote or impede NFL player health and made appropriate responsive recommendations.  Other FPHS initiatives remain ongoing, as clinical work continues 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 is funded 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.

Key projects of the Law and Ethics Initiative 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, MBioethics

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. The final report includes 76 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, MBioethics

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 report examines the policies and practices of the NFL that concern player health, and compares them to those of other major professional sports leagues: Major League Baseball; the National Basketball Association; the National Hockey League; the Canadian Football League; and, Major League Soccer. After analyzing the leagues, the report compares each one to the NFL on the following health-related issues: (1) Club Medical Personnel (including discussion of conflicts of interest); (2) Injury Rates and Policies (including detailed comparisons of concussion rates); (3) Health-Related Benefits (including health insurance and retirement benefits for current and former players); (4) Drug and Performance-Enhancing Substance Policies; (5) Compensation (including guaranteed compensation); and, (6) Eligibility Rules (including discussion of the “readiness” of athletes for professional play). Ultimately the report makes nine recommendations for better protecting and promoting NFL player health. 

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 25 current and former players and 25 family members of players. 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. Multiple publications are expected in 2017 and 2018.

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The Law and Ethics Initiative was supported by the Law and Ethics Advisory Panel (LEAP). The LEAP provided advice on the direction and execution of planned projects; offered input on draft reports, findings, recommendations, and other project output; facilitated connections to appropriate stakeholders and other experts; and, served as consultants when questions arose. The LEAP members were:

  • Nita Farahany, JD, MA, PhD, Professor, Duke University School of Law

  • Joseph J. Fins, MD, MACP, Weill Cornell Medical College

  • Ashley Foxworth, JD, MA, Attorney, Student, Harvard Graduate School of Education

  • Walter Jones, Retired NFL Player and Hall of Famer

  • Isaiah Kacyvenski, Retired NFL Player and Managing Director, Sports Innovation Lab

  • Bernard Lo, MD, President, Greenwall Foundation

  • Chris Ogbonnaya, BA, BS, Retired NFL Player, MBA Candidate, University of Texas

  • Dick Vermeil, BA, Retired NFL Coach