In this Sept. 5, 2018 file photo, the Dallas Cowboys wear helmets with logo emblazoned on them as they take the field before the start of the first quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
This fall, the NFL will be entering the offseason with several key changes to the way it oversees player contracts and suspensions.
In addition to re-establishing a system for the league to suspend players for offenses including sexual assault, the league also wants to reinstate an old-fashioned “soft” suspension that has served as the model for decades.
The NFLPA has long fought to have players reinstated when they are cleared by an independent, outside arbitrator.
In October, the union’s chief executive officer, Mike Condon, said in a letter to the league that the new system would allow for a “more consistent process.”
In the letter, Condon also said that NFL owners “have indicated that they do not believe that the current process is in the best interest of the players.”
But while Condon is pushing the NFL to revisit its reinstatement process, some in the industry argue the current suspension process is not the best way to handle the issue of concussions.
“It is the only way to get concussions off the field,” says David E. Kelley, a concussion expert who has worked with NFL teams and the NFLPA.
“It’s the only method of getting it off the football field.
It’s the most efficient way to prevent any sort of concussion.”
The latest version of the new policy, which went into effect in 2020, mandates that players undergo an independent exam by a medical examiner.
If the exam shows a concussion, the player must undergo an initial two-week suspension and then a second two-year suspension that must be served concurrently.
After that, the suspension can be removed if the player is diagnosed with “concussion symptoms.”
Players can request a hearing and can appeal a suspension.
But the hearing process is limited to a “minimal” amount of time, which typically means no more than 10 minutes.
After that, a player is deemed eligible to return to play.
And, like the old system, the final determination of if the suspension is appropriate is left to the medical examiner, who must also conduct a “comprehensive examination” and “examine the medical record of the athlete.”
The NFL has not made a similar change in the way suspensions are handled in recent years, Kelley says.
In some cases, players who have received concussions have had their suspensions reduced, but they have not been required to return for the full two-season period.
The new policy also requires that all players who are “subject to a suspension for an injury that occurs before the date of the investigation of that injury,” such as an accidental or aggravated head injury, undergo “a full and comprehensive medical examination” as well as a second physical exam and physical evaluation by an orthopedic surgeon.
The NFL said the new process has made it easier to suspend athletes for concussions, and that “the concussions are a very real and significant issue for all athletes and their families, and they need to be treated appropriately and with dignity.”
The league says it will allow all players to participate in voluntary concussion testing and have access to medical information during the suspension period, but only if they are required to do so under a written agreement with their doctors.
If a player fails to comply with that agreement, the team can appeal the suspension to the NFL’s independent arbitrator, which can overturn the suspension and allow the player to return.