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NFL players weigh health against career threats

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Photo: Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images.

The recent medical struggles of three NFL players highlight the delicate balance of athletes' health and their careers.

Driving the news: In October, former New York Jets guard Kelechi Osemele filed an injury grievance against his team for an outstanding shoulder issue. After he refused to practice and underwent unauthorized surgery to address the issue, going against the team's opinion, the Jets released Osemele. He was stuck with fines of up to $579,000 each week, ESPN reports.

  • In April, reports surfaced that Washington Redskins tackle Trent Williams had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his scalp. He's since claimed his team dismissed the growth. The Redskins have publicly shared a different version of the events, and sources claim he was recommended to seek medical attention.
  • Last month, Cincinnati Bengals tackle Cordy Glenn reportedly asked to be released from the team after claiming he felt rushed to play following a concussion. The team has argued Glenn's concussion should no longer be a concern.

Between the lines: Rights granted by a collective bargaining agreement reached in 2011 have authorized NFL players to seek second opinions on medical issues, "but only after consulting with the club physician and giving due consideration to his recommendations," the New York Times notes.

  • Team doctors have pushed back against allegations that they prioritize the sport above player health.
  • The NFL Players Association has filed roughly 40 medical grievances from players over the past two years. A union spokesperson claims that number has dropped as teams are increasingly settling with players over medical disputes.

Of note: The growing power of players to fight for their health also comes as team owners push for a regular season extension. NFL rules are consistently under scrutiny as well, with the game's long-term effects on player health being a constant concern.

The bottom line: Osemele's remarks in October showcase the reality players face:

"A lot of guys play through injuries. But once it stops working and it doesn’t do anything for you anymore, then you’re at the point of ‘What do I do now?’ Do I take Vicodin? Where is the line? How much should a player play through pain?"

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