Concussions are still one of the most notable issues in Canadian football, and now they're becoming part of the contestedongoing contested collective bargaining agreement talks between the CFL and its players' association. Sportsnet's Arash Madani reported Wednesday that although most of the discussions in CBA talks have been about the philosophical divide between the sides on revenue sharing, player safety proposals are also becoming an important part of the negotiations. Madani detailed four new player safety clauses that the players would like to add into the next CBA, and they're all focused on concussions:
1. To make it mandatory for each team to have an independent neurologist on the sidelines for all games.
2. For players to be able to obtain a second opinion from a medical doctor of the players’ choice, in relation to the condition of their health after an injury.
3. That the CFL spend a minimum of $100,000 a year for the “sole purpose of conducting research in relation to injury and concussions in the CFL,” and that the research be jointly agreed upon by the union and league.
4. That football operation employees—including players, coaches, trainers, equipment personnel and sideline staff—be required to attend a seminar during training camp, providing further education on brain injuries, concussions, concussion symptoms, second impact syndrome and the treatment of concussions.
The negotiators from the league have so far declined to accept these clauses into the CBA during bargaining sessions.
The CFLPA has also proposed that if a player suffers a career-ending injury, he receive one season worth of salary—paid out over four years—to assist him in his transition out of football.
All of those proposals seem solid from this corner. Evaluations from independent medical personnel have long been established as a crucial part of concussion management, and putting independent neurologists on the sidelines would hopefully lead to less players getting concussed, then returning to the game. The ability for players to obtain a second opinion from a doctor of their choice also sounds positive, and requiring the CFL to spend money on concussion research (and research agreed to by both the union and the league) could be a great move. $100,000 per year isn't a ton of money for a league bringing in a reported $40 million in TV revenue alone, and it could pay major dividends down the road if it helps reduce the long-term consequences of concussions for players.
The fourth point, of mandatory concussion education seminars, has the potential to be very positive as well. A large part of the CFL's problems with concussions have come from players eager to get back on the field too soon and team personnel that haven't held them back enough. Increased education about the risks involved might well pay off. A career-ending injury policy also sounds terrific, and the proposed one wouldn't be too steep financially for teams or the league, but could be a substantial help for many ex-players.
So, why isn't the CFL being more accepting of these ideas so far? Well, the anonymous player rep who told Madani “Player safety should not be negotiable” isn't quite correct. Just about everything is negotiable, and while the league doesn't want to have an image of not supporting player safety, they undoubtedly have player safety proposals of their own. Just because the players' proposals sound good doesn't mean that the CFL's wouldn't. (This is one area where the players' strategy of leaking proposals has an edge over the league's unwillingness to discuss negotiations; we know what the PA is proposing and can discuss it, but we don't know what the league counter is.) It's also quite possible that the CFL plans to eventually go along with these plans in return for the players giving ground elsewhere. Still, it's very interesting to see just what the players are proposing here, and to see that concussion management, treatment and research is a priority for them. We'll see how much traction these proposals gain.
(Aside: Terry Ott's seven-part series at The Concussion Blog on concussions and the CFL is an interesting background read for those curious about where things stand. It's worth a look.)