One thing is clear: NFL teams are going to open their training camps. By the CBA, they have the authority to do so. What happens after that is more up in the air. Presumably, the vast majority of players will choose to show up. They will reserve the right to file grievances through the NFLPA about possible unsafe working conditions related to the prevention of the spread of the coronavirus.
Last week, during a conference call, DeMaurice Smith made it pretty clear that this was the case. By July 28, all teams’ training camps will or should be open unless the date ends up getting moved between now and then. But July 28 is the date to be on track to start the regular season on time.
One thing that Smith said was that NFL team doctors had expressed to the union their belief that it was generally safe, despite some reservations, for players to return to work. In spite of the fact that it was the executive director of the union conveying this message, however, it was difficult for players to take seriously.
Including Eric Ebron of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who retweeted a Pro Football Talk article highlighting Smith’s comments, saying that “we don’t even let ‘team’ doctors do our surgeries”, complete with a laughing-with-tears emoji, adding that it is “not credible”.
We don’t even let “Team” doctors do our surgeries. 😂 this not credible https://t.co/qGOmtxGuFb
— Eric Ebron (@Ebron85) July 17, 2020
NFL team doctors are organizational employees who work for the team. There have been many controversies with team doctors over the years, including the Pittsburgh Steelers. Former team physician Richard Rydze was sentenced to 10 years in prison for illegally distributing steroids, painkillers and HGH.
Separately, the Steelers and their medical and training staff were featured prominently in a lawsuit against the league filed by former players accusing team physicians of irresponsibly dispensing painkillers to players rather than actually treating them, without concern for their wellbeing. Among others, Glen Edwards, a safety from the 70s team, was a plaintiff. John Norwig and James Bradley were named in the lawsuit.
Last year, we saw former New York Jets guard Kelechi Osemele go rogue in getting a second opinion on his knee when the team’s doctor refused to recommend surgery. He got surgery on his own, and then the team released him.
Ebron has a bone to pick with the NFL on this topic as well. He contends that he played through last season with the Indianapolis Colts with a torn groin, and made the decision to have surgery before the season was over, with the team seemingly reluctant to go along with it.
A number of others players have also responded to this story voicing their concerns with the credibility of team doctors telling the players union that they think it’s fine, through humor. Some prominent players, such as former Raven tackle Eugene Monroe, have campaigned to reform the use of painkillers in the NFL.