Past Projects

Health and Wellness: Research that focuses on overall health and wellness.

Health and Wellness

TeamStudy
Principal Investigator Alvaro Pascual-Leone, MD, PhD, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Summary TeamStudy was the first app dedicated to understanding the health and wellness of former professional football players by engaging thousands of former NFL players and the general public alike. Collecting information from large numbers of people on a consistent basis contributes to developing accurate scientific discoveries that address the diverse health needs of former NFL players and others.

In gathering health data from adults of all ages, gender, and cultures, with a specific focus on former NFL players, TeamStudy provided fundamental new insights into the following areas: cognition and cognitive reserve, cardiac health, and mobility.

An initiative of the Football Players Health Study at Harvard University, the app utilized Apple’s ResearchKit framework.
Brain Function: Research that examines overall brain health, function, and injuries.

Brain Function

Concussions – Red/Near-Infrared Light Therapy for Traumatic Brain Injury
Principal Investigators: William Meehan III, MD, Boston Children’s Hospital

Ross Zafonte, DO, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital

Michael Whalen, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital
Summary: One of the current hypotheses regarding prolonged recovery after concussion contends that there is a need for more energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate, more commonly known as ATP. When shined on cells in culture, light in the red-near infrared spectrum results in greater ATP synthesis. Thus, shining light on brain cells after a concussion might result in a greater increase in ATP and, perhaps, a faster recovery. In fact, in conjunction with Marney Naeser, PhD, and others, the results of preliminary animal studies and in-human trials have been published in the Journal of Neurotrauma, Lasers in Surgery and Medicine, and Photomedicine and Laser Surgery. This hypothesis is currently being tested in a double-blinded, randomized controlled trial with funding from the Football Players Health Study.
Gary Strangman, PhD
Preventing Injuries in Football: On-Field Brain Movement and Activity Monitoring
Principal Investigator: Gary Strangman, PhD, Massachusetts General Hospital
Summary: Brain injuries in contact-sports are a serious concern, but to date it has only been possible to measure the acceleration of the head or helmet, not the all-important movement of the brain inside the skull. Recent advances in our lab may make it possible—for the first time—to non-invasively monitor the direction and amplitude of brain movement inside the skull, even while players are on the field. This capability, which will undergo initial validation and feasibility testing via this project, will help provide a more objective and quantitative understanding of how and when football players sustain head injuries, and provide improved guidance on how to reduce or eliminate such injuries.
Neuroimaging Workgroup
Faculty Leaders: Georges El Fakhri, PhD, DABR, Massachusetts General Hospital

Michael Fox, MD, PhD, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Summary The Neuroimaging Workgroup is a diverse team of imaging and neurology experts from Harvard’s affiliated teaching hospitals. Drawing on their experience in neuroimaging, this collaborative research effort supports the goals of the Football Players Health Study through research on and development of brain imaging biomarkers for the injuries and illnesses that former professional football players face, with the ultimate goal of creating new strategies for diagnosis and prevention.
Law & Ethics: Legal and ethical factors affecting player health, and recommendations for improvement.

Law & Ethics

Qualitative Study/Listening Tour
Investigators Sarah McGraw, PhD, The Hastings Center

Christopher R. Deubert, JD, MBA, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics

I. Glenn Cohen, JD, Harvard Law School, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics

Holly Fernandez Lynch, JD, M.Bioethics, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics
Summary This study consists of a series of one-on-one interviews that solicit direct feedback from approximately 40-60 current and former players and their families. The goal is to better understand the perspectives of these key stakeholders on the following topics: overall NFL experience; improving player safety; health, family and social issues; support as a professional athlete; life after football; risk disclosure and risk taking; healthcare and club medical staff; medical screenings; and injury and pain management. Findings from this study will inform the NFL, NFLPA, and other stakeholders on how to better understand and prioritize action concerning player health matters.
Comparing Health-Related Policies and Practices in Sports: The NFL and Other Professional Leagues
Investigators Christopher R. Deubert, JD, MBA, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics

I. Glenn Cohen, JD, Harvard Law School, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics

Holly Fernandez Lynch, JD, M.Bioethics, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics
Summary This report examines the policies and practices of the NFL that concern player health, and compares them to those of other major professional sports leagues: Major League Baseball; the National Basketball Association; the National Hockey League; the Canadian Football League; and, Major League Soccer. After analyzing the leagues, the report compares each one to the NFL on the following health-related issues: (1) Club Medical Personnel (including discussion of conflicts of interest); (2) Injury Rates and Policies (including detailed comparisons of concussion rates); (3) Health-Related Benefits (including health insurance and retirement benefits for current and former players); (4) Drug and Performance-Enhancing Substance Policies; (5) Compensation (including guaranteed compensation); and, (6) Eligibility Rules (including discussion of the “readiness” of athletes for professional play). Ultimately the report makes nine recommendations for better protecting and promoting NFL player health.
Evaluating NFL Player Health and Performance: Legal and Ethical Issues
Investigators Jessica L. Roberts, JD, University of Houston Law Center

I. Glenn Cohen, JD, Harvard Law School, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics

Holly Fernandez Lynch, JD, M.Bioethics, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics

Christopher R. Deubert, JD, MBA, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics
Summary This research investigates the path of a hypothetical college football player who has aspirations to play in the NFL, addressing from a legal and ethical perspective the types of health and performance evaluations he will likely be subjected to throughout his career. Some of these evaluations are commonplace and familiar, while others are more futuristic – and potentially of unproven value. How much information about themselves should aspiring and current professional players be expected to provide in the context of employment? What are the current legal standards for employers as they collect, and act on, an individual’s health-related information? Drawing on disability law, privacy law, and the law regarding genetic testing, this article seeks to answer these questions, as well as provide recommendations to better protect the health and privacy of professional football players. Read the article here.
Hastings Center Report – Special Report: A Proposal to Address NFL Club Doctors’ Conflicts of Interest and to Promote Player Trust
Investigators Christopher R. Deubert, JD, MBA, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics

I. Glenn Cohen, JD, Harvard Law School, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics

Holly Fernandez Lynch, JD, M.Bioethics, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics
Summary This project urges the NFL, NFLPA, and other stakeholders to adopt the principal recommendation of our report, “Protecting and Promoting the Health of NFL Players: Legal and Ethical Analysis and Recommendations,” for addressing the conflicts of interest inherent in the current structure of NFL player healthcare, in which club medical staff provide services to both the club and players. Read the article here.

The authors received commentaries from a diverse and highly-qualified group of experts, including lawyers, bioethicists, a former player, a former player who is now a doctor, a current player who is also a medical student, an NFLPA consultant, and the NFL Physicians Society, the organization that represents NFL club doctors. Read the commentaries here. The authors published a response to the commentaries, which can be read here.
Protecting and Promoting the Health of NFL Players: Legal and Ethical Analysis and Recommendations
Investigators Christopher R. Deubert, JD, MBA, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics

I. Glenn Cohen, JD, Harvard Law School, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics

Holly Fernandez Lynch, JD, M.Bioethics, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics
Summary This initiative identifies stakeholders in player health, analyzes their legal and ethical obligations, evaluates current successes, and identifies gaps and opportunities for each stakeholder in protecting and promoting player health. Finally, it applies a series of legal and ethical principles to arrive at recommendations for positive change where needed. The stakeholders discussed are: NFL players, the NFL, NFL clubs and personnel, NFL coaches, NFL club medical staff, second opinion, neutral and personal doctors, the NFLPA, contract advisors, financial advisors, equipment managers and manufacturers, players’ family members, officials, the media, NFL business partners, and fans. Our report includes more than 70 recommendations aimed at improving player health. Read the full report.