How Much Power Does OSHA Have Over the NFL?
Sports are widely known as the "great equalizer", and the NFL is no exception. People from all walks of life come together to appreciate jarring hits, incredible catches, clutch moments, and the overall emotion that simply cannot be equaled anywhere else.
But even as league revenue broke $14 billion in 2017, player safety concerns persist. Those jarring hits are exciting to fans, but the physical toll taken on players is not. As concussions and CTE scares come into the limelight with more and more frequency, both the general public and players themselves are demanding the NFL to do more to protect the players' safety.
This brings up an interesting question: What exactly does OSHA do regarding the NFL?
In a way, OSHA does already have some governance over the league. Its General Duty clause requires that each employer "shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees".
Jon Hyman of Ohio Employer Law Blog warns the NFL to take concussion issues more seriously. The NFL Players' Association, or NFLPA, has some additional leverage here. NFL owners and the NFLPA have been clashing more often than usual lately. Several events, including the unfair suspensions of Tom Brady and Ezekiel Elliott, the national anthem policy, guaranteed contracts, and yes, concussion issues are among the most prevalent issues.
Hyman wonders if there could ever be a scenario in which the NFLPA believes that the NFL isn’t as proactive as it should be in reducing the risk of head injuries, and in turn, it files a complaint with OSHA.
The possibility of a player dying during a game is another catastrophe brought up. Thankfully, no such incident has occurred in an NFL game, but the league did see a scary injury to Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier last season. One of the best players in the league, Shazier was unable to walk for some time and even now, has some limitations. His attempt to revive his NFL career could be highly risky for not only himself, but the league too.
It seems likely that OSHA would investigate such scenarios. They recognize that their jurisdiction is valid if the athletes are considered employees. However, OSHA has publicly acknowledged that in most cases, it does not take enforcement action regarding professional athletes. It would certainly take a lot to change that.
Ultimately, it seems that either the NFLPA must aggressively push OSHA to investigate, or OSHA itself must change their stance on professional athletes. Otherwise, the NFL has no reason to worry about OSHA's impact.