In an outcome that could impact numerous pending concussion lawsuits against the NFL, former Cincinnati Bengals tight end Ben Utecht prevailed in arbitration regarding his release by the team after he suffered a concussion during training camp in 2009.
The arbitrator ordered the Bengals to pay the player his full salary for that season.
At the heart of the arbitration was whether Utecht should have been cleared to play, which made him eligible to be cut. The Bengals argued that he could have been cleared, thereby reducing their obligation to pay his full salary that season.
However, Utecht and the NFL Players Association contended he should not have been cleared and, therefore, should have received his full salary.
In a statement, the NFLPA said:
"In 2009, Ben Utecht, a veteran tight end with the Cincinnati Bengals, suffered a severe concussion while participating in training camp activities.
"When the Bengals terminated Utecht's contract later that season, the NFLPA filed an Injury Grievance under the CBA to enforce Utecht's right to salary for the period of time he remained injured and unable to play as a result of the concussion.
"The main issue in the case was whether or not Utecht was asymptomatic with activity and could be cleared to resume play. In deciding for the player, the arbitrator held that Utecht 'had not been sufficiently tested, both in his aerobic and strength reconditioning program, nor had he been tested in sport specific activities which would be a more accurate means of determining whether the damage caused by the concussion had cleared.'
"The club had argued that a less rigorous testing procedure was sufficient. In rejecting that argument, the arbitrator held that Utecht should not have been cleared to play by the club and awarded Utecht the remainder of his salary for that season."
NFLPA attorney Tim English added, "This decision upholds our players' rights to continued salary payments while injured and should provide important guidance for players and clubs in determining when it is appropriate to return to play after a player suffers a severe concussion."
Meanwhile, Utecht has turned his attention to music and writing. A statement released Wednesday by the NFLPA "on the behalf of Ben Utecht" says:
"Before the end of 2013, Ben will release a new album and a book. He will share his story of a dream-come-true coming to an end and a new one dawning. 'My upcoming album will trace my path out of the ashes, redefining who I am. The songs will journey through concussions, perseverance, fear, love and virtue. My book is entitled GPS 4 Life and will share my path and encourage others to discover their gifts, passions and spirit.'"