Evaluating NFL Player Health and Performance: Legal and Ethical Issues

113 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2017  

Jessica L. Roberts

University of Houston Law Center

I. Glenn Cohen

Harvard Law School

Chris Deubert

Harvard University - Football Players Health Study

Holly Fernandez Lynch

Petrie-Flom Center, Harvard Law School

Date Written: January 24, 2017

Abstract

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.

The upshot of our analysis is that it appears that some of the existing evaluations of players, both at the NFL Scouting Combine (Combine) and once drafted and playing for a club, seem to violate existing federal employment discrimination laws. Specifically, (1) the medical examinations at the Combine potentially violate the Americans with Disabilities Act’s (ADA) prohibitions on pre-employment medical exams; (2) post-offer medical examinations that are made public potentially violate the ADA’s confidentiality provisions; (3) post-offer medical examinations that reveal a disability and result in discrimination — e.g., the rescission of a contract offer — potentially violate the ADA provided the player can still perform the essential job functions; (4) Combine medical examinations that include a request for a player’s family medical history potentially violate the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA); and (5) the preseason physical’s requirement that a player disclose his family medical history potentially violates GINA.

We believe all employers — including the NFL and its clubs — should comply fully with the current law. To that end, our recommendations center around four “C”s: compliance, clarity, circumvention, and changes to existing statutory schemes as applied to the NFL (and perhaps other professional sports).

Keywords: NFL, NFLPA, Combine, ADA, GINA, Disability, Genetics, Wearable Technology, Biometric, Player Health, CBA, Club Doctors, Team Doctors, Sports Medicine, Concussion, CTE

Suggested Citation

Roberts, Jessica L. and Cohen, I. Glenn and Deubert, Chris and Lynch, Holly Fernandez, Evaluating NFL Player Health and Performance: Legal and Ethical Issues (January 24, 2017). University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Vol. 165, No. 2, 2017. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2905718

Jessica L. Roberts

University of Houston Law Center ( email )

Houston, TX 77204
United States

I. Glenn Cohen

Harvard Law School ( email )

1525 Massachusetts Avenue
Griswold Hall 503
Cambridge, 02138
United States

Chris Deubert (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Football Players Health Study ( email )

23 Everett St.
3rd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Holly Fernandez Lynch

Petrie-Flom Center, Harvard Law School ( email )

23 Everett Street
Cambridge, MA 02155
United States
6173845475 (Phone)

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