The NFL and NFLPA have created a series of policies to improve the league’s pain management practices, and address the mental health treatment of active players on every team.
The new policies and practices are initiatives NFL receiver Brandon Marshall, who has spent the past decade serving as an advocate for mental health since he was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in 2011 while playing for the Miami Dolphins, has spent years advocating for.
Marshall even pitched similar policy changes to NFL executives, owners and coaches during the NFL owner’s meeting two years ago.
According to Marshall, a 13-year veteran who is 30 receptions shy of 1,000 for his career, all the changes and policies that will be implemented before training camp opens later this summer, “are a start, but not the finish line.”
“This is a call to action to take the case of our minds as serious as they do our bodies. Hopefully they don’t put the clinicians in the back of the building, next to the janitor’s closet,” said Marshall, an unrestricted free agent who intends to play a 14th season in the NFL. “We talk about how life, and the game is 80% mental, but we don’t act like that when it comes to how players are being treated?”
According to an NFLPA source, these two initiatives should not be lumped together, and the policy changes were proposed to immediately address issues that have plagued players for decades, during and after their careers are over.
In a joint statement released Monday, the two parties acknowledge they will work together to gain a better understanding of the science involved in pain management, and explore other potential treatments, which could potentially lead to marijuana being removed from the banned substance list when the next CBA deal is authored.
The NFL and NFLPA will immediately form a “Joint Pain Management Committee,” which will include medical experts appointed by both the league and the union, which will establish “uniform standards for club practices and policies regarding pain management and the use of prescription medication by NFL players.”
That committee will also do research on pain management methods, and alternative therapies.
Past and present NFL players have complained about the league’ encouragement of opioid use, the easy distribution of pills that could create a pill-popping habit since the culture of football has been built on getting athletes numbed up enough to play through their injuries.
According to a study done by Washington University, which was published in the National Institute of Health, 71% of the retired players who reported taking opioids admitted misusing them to keep practicing and playing.
The “Prescription Drug Monitoring Program” will monitor all prescriptions issued to the NFL players by club physicians and unaffiliated doctors.
Before the start of the 2019 season, each club must appoint a Pain Management Specialist to oversee each NFL team’s prescription distribution program.
According to Andrew Brandt, a former league executive who has transformed into a sports business analyst for the media, this move is likely a “precursor to greater acceptance of marijuana for pain, as so many states allow.”
“NFL and NFLPA, who usually can’t agree on color of the sky, agree to “conduct research concerning pain management and alternative therapies.” Brandt tweeted. “Again, adapt or die.”
The NFL and NFLPA will also formally mandate that each team has a Behavioral Health Team Clinician on staff to support player’s emotional and mental health. That clinician must be approved by the NFL and NFLPA and hired before training camps open in late July. The Dolphins are already compliant with the new policy.
Many teams have already hired clinicians that treat players, but this takes it a step further, hoping to avoid the type of crisis that led to the Dolphins Bullygate scandal in 2013, which centered around Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito’s unhealthy relationship.
The team clinician must be available to players at the team facility for at least 8-12 hours per week, and must conduct mandatory mental health and educational sessions for players and coaches.
The release doesn’t state whether the clinician will act independent of the team, or report to them about a player’s issues, conditions or background.
“This is going to be tough in the beginning because players will be concerned they are reporting back to the team information that will be used against them,” said Marshall, who said he met with team clinicians in the cafeteria, in front of his peers to help normalize it during his time in New York with the Jets and Giants.
“Over the course of a few years it will become normalized, and that’s ideal for everyone, and not just athletes.”
The NFL and NFLPA will also form a Comprehensive Mental Health and Wellness Committee, which aims to develop educational programs for players, coaches, club personnel and player’s family members regarding mental health care and wellness.