Most people who follow football—as well as those of us who work in workforce compliance, for that matter—wouldn’t associate OSHA with the NFL. A recent research paper published in the Arizona Law Review asks: Why not? Why isn’t the league subject to the same health and safety regulations other employers are? After all, the authors contend, professional football players are employees of the NFL. Moreover, players contend with serious risks to their health and safety in the form of musculoskeletal injuries, heat stroke, concussions, and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
As the authors write in their abstract, thinking of athletes as “workers” rather than “players” raises serious questions about the role of health and safety regulations and an employer’s responsibility to protect the well-being of employees:
“The athletes who participate in professional football call themselves (and the public calls them) football ‘players,’ not football ‘workers,’ reflecting the reality that as exhausting and high-pressure as their efforts are, they are ultimately playing a sport. Nevertheless, we should not forget that these athletes indeed are workers; they have trained extensively to perform their roles, they do intense physical labor as part of their jobs, they are salaried employees of National Football League (‘NFL”) clubs, and they are represented by a labor union, the National Football League Players Association (“NFLPA”). …
[R]ecognizing the NFL as a workplace, governed by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (‘OSHA’) and the law surrounding occupational health and safety, can transform our understanding of the NFL and player safety. This topic has gained considerable and growing public attention, particularly regarding the recent and controversial concerns over the possible long-term risks of neurological damage in these workers.”