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Union head takes on NFL on player safety issues

Updated at: 01/31/2013 9:07 PM
By HOWARD FENDRICH

(AP) NEW ORLEANS - So much for labor peace in the NFL.

Less than 18 months after the league and players ended a lockout by signing a 10-year collective bargaining agreement, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith and union president Domonique Foxworth used a Super Bowl news conference to lay out a series of complaints about safety issues Thursday.

Smith began by threatening to file a grievance if the NFL refuses to institute a system to verify the credentials of all medical personnel on the 32 teams. He mentioned three amendments the NFLPA wants to make to the new CBA, including the appointment of "a neutral chief safety officer who can hear appeals about acceptable levels of medical care."

He called the NFL’s lockout of its officials at the start of this season "one of the most deliberate disregards of player safety that I think has occurred in the National Football League since our inception."

All in all, it sent a clear message that the union and owners have significant differences about how to improve players’ health and safety.

Even when the sides do agree, they can’t seem to agree.

The union has been pressing the NFL to put independent neurological consultants on sidelines during games to help diagnose and treat concussions, something league general counsel Jeff Pash announced at a news conference earlier Thursday he expects to begin next season.

But Smith would only acknowledge having "heard that they have relented, at least in some respect, to have sideline concussion experts. We have not seen the proposal."

Pash did say that "details need to be worked through" with the NFLPA.

The NFL is facing concussion-related lawsuits from thousands of former players. In a series of interviews about head injuries with The Associated Press in December 2011, 31 of 44 players said they wanted the league to have independent neurologists at games.

At its media session Thursday, the union presented the results of an internal survey that it said showed a majority of players are not satisfied with the way their team manages injuries and that most do not trust their team’s medical staff. The union would not say how many players participated, however.

"The league, their No. 1 focus _ at least they say their No. 1 focus _ is health and safety. And we say our No. 1 focus is health and safety," Foxworth said. "How come we have such a hard time moving the ball on some health and safety issues?"

He mentioned the use of replacement officials, the NFL’s desire for an 18-game season, the increased slate of Thursday night games and the New Orleans Saints bounty investigation as examples of items that have driven a wedge between the players and the league.

"All those things are happening, and our players see it," Foxworth said, "and they lose trust."

Still unresolved, too, is implementing blood tests for human growth hormone, something the CBA paved the way for but has not yet started. Pash said the league recently made a new proposal to the union that he thinks will lead to HGH testing next season. But Smith disputed that, saying the league still will not agree to the sort of independent arbitrator that Major League Baseball’s drug-testing program has.

Said Smith: "Why should football players take less due process rights than baseball players?"

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)