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Medical Malpractice Suit Could Shift NFL’s Medical Perspective

In a recent decision by the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, former Philadelphia Eagles captain Chris Maragos was awarded $43.5 million on the back of a medical malpractice suit against two orthopedic surgeons.[1] Maragos tore his posterior cruciate ligament (hereinafter “PCL”) in his right knee during a game on October 12, 2017, and underwent an advanced rehab program despite still showing a partial tear in his knee in 2018.[2] This ultimately led to the “premature end” of his career in the National Football League (hereinafter “NFL”) and the lawsuit in the present day.[3] This ruling is a significant shift for NFL teams and their medical staff as the focus must now become a player’s ability to get back on the field as soon as possible as well as the player’s long-term health. The criticism and frustration of the NFL’s medical staff is not just felt by former players as New Orleans Saints’ receiver Michael Thomas expressed his thoughts in a now-deleted tweet commenting on the suit “right decision, the nfl medical sucks, cheap and uneducated their job barely requires any education or curriculum…well at least and some places I know.”[4]

NFL physicians must undergo four years of undergraduate study, four years of medical school, four to five years of residency, and one year of fellowship training, and most physicians will have experience with a sports team at the collegiate or high school level before transitioning to the NFL.[5] Additionally, each physician on the team must be board-certified in their field of medical expertise led by a Head Team Physician who must have three years of affiliation with an NFL team’s medical staff and attended training camps, scouting combines, and at least sixteen games.[6] This is not to say that Thomas’ frustrations are not valid, but they are potentially misplaced.

NFL physicians are qualified and educated, but the pressure from the organization may shift the medical team’s perspective to the player’s immediate availability rather than their long-term health.[7] This has been, unfortunately, at the forefront of the NFL as we saw with Tua Tagovailoa as he suffered three concussions during the 2022-2023 season.[8] Tagovailoa suffered a head injury in weeks four and five and another one again in week sixteen on Christmas Day which he is still in concussion protocol for.[9] This has led many to question his future in the league and even Dr. Bennet Omalu, the doctor who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (hereinafter “CTE”), to advise Tua to stop playing immediately.[10] Tua’s parents have indicated he will play again in 2023, but that remains to be seen.[11] If Tua were to step away, it is plausible that he could file suit similar to Maragos’ suit against the physicians who cleared him to play during those weeks of back-to-back head injuries.[12] Whether Tagovailoa continues his career or not, Maragos’ win could shift the landscape of the medical focus in the NFL and open the opportunity for other former players to evaluate whether they received proper care and if not, open a similar suit against those who handled their medical issues.

Evan Mattel is a 2L at Hofstra Law, Vice President of the Sports and Entertainment Law Society, and Representative for the New York State Bar Association's Entertainment and Sports Law Section. He is also the Editor-In-Chief for Conduct Detrimental. He can be found at @Evan_Mattel21 on Twitter or on Linkedin.

Sources: [1] See Matias Grez, Former Philadelphia Eagles captain Chris Maragos awarded $43.5 million in medical malpractice case, CNN (Feb. 15, 2023) [2] See id. [3] See id. [4] Erin Walsh, Saints’ Michael Thomas Deletes Tweet Criticizing NFL Mediical Staff, Bleacher Report (Feb. 18, 2023) [5] See NFLPA, Collective Bargaining Agreement 214 (2020). [6] See id. [7] See Arif Hasan, Damar Hamlin Injury Tested Our Commitment to What Matters. The NFL Failed, Pro Football Network (Jan. 3, 2023) [8] See Joe Rivera, Tua Tagovailoa injury history: A complete timeline of injuries for Dolphins QB, The Sporting News (Jan. 15, 2023) [9] Michael Baca, Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa remains in concussion protocol, won’t participate in Pro Bowl Games, NFL (Jan. 27, 2023) [10] See Edward Sutelan, Tua Tagovailoa injury update: Parents say Dolphins QB will be back in 2023, The Sporting News (Jan 28, 2023) [11] See id. [12] See Rivera supra note 8.

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