Niners' John York, NFL miss point in battle with players' association over team doctors

PHOENIX – The NFL and the NFL Players Association continued their long-running public fight Tuesday.

The NFL shot back at the NFLPA's criticism of team doctors by having San Francisco 49ers owner Dr. John York defend the honor of the many physicians the league employs.

"There's no one in the NFL that's seen the survey," York said, referring to a survey the union discussed on Feb. 1. The union said that 78 percent of players did not trust the team doctors. However, the union has not given any background on the science of the survey.

"I don't know what the questions were. I have no idea how many players were asked or what the responses were," continued York, who is the chairman of the NFL's Health and Safety Advisory Committee. "What I can tell you is that in speaking with our head athletic trainer, who is very close to our players – and those of you who have contact with the 49ers know some of the relationship between our head athletic trainer and our players and see the collegial relationship – he knew nothing of the survey. Hadn't heard about it."

The NFLPA response to York's comments was predictably argumentative.

"Coming from the organization that denied Joe Montana's workers compensation benefits for years, we are not concerned about the remarks about our player survey," NFLPA spokesman George Atallah said. "The day the NFL commits itself to taking care of players who have been injured at work is the day we begin to take these types of comments seriously."

The problem for the league is that arguing over the merits of the survey ignores reality. It is rare that any group of employees will have trust in the company doctors for an extended period of time. Rather than adopt a practice that might bridge the trust issue, such as making second opinions with the doctor of a player's choice standard operating procedure, the league has fallen into the union's rhetoric trap.

Then again, based on York's comments, the league may not really understand the issues. When asked about making second opinions mandatory (they are optional now for players), York was seemingly perturbed. He noted that 40 percent of all players currently get a second opinion, but didn't seem to realize that requiring it might remove doubt in cases where a team doctor could be wrong (an issue that has far more damaging long-term effects on trust).

That is particularly an issue in a profession that requires so much medical attention for employees.

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"If you're saying that everybody has to go through this, doesn't that make the system less efficient?" York said. "I don't see the value in doing that."

When pressed on the issue, York said: "Don't all of you have the ability to get a second opinion when you go to the doctor? Do you have the ability? Do you? How many times do you use that ability to get a second opinion?"

Of course, York brushed over the fact that, for most people, they are seeing a doctor of their own choosing. In that case, there is a trust factor between a doctor and patient that may not exist between a team doctor and a player.

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