In 2009, former Bengals tight end Ben Utecht suffered a concussion during training camp. The Bengals put him on injured reserve, ending his season.
In November, the Bengals decided he was healthy enough to play. But since, by rule, he couldn’t play for them at any point over the remainder of the season, the Bengals cut him — and in turn cut off his pay.
On Wednesday, Utecht won a grievance awarding him the $926,000 in salary that the Bengals had declined to pay.
“The important thing is it is a decision for all players,” Utecht told Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer. “It gives a standard that teams have to fulfill and for anyone that suffers a brain injury and a standard to be rehabilitated. That’s something we have been fighting for our players for 3-4 years now.”
The Bengals have issued a statement that, while technically accurate, misses the broader point.
“The substantive issue involved in Ben’s case was when we could release him from his contract,” the Bengals said, via the team’s official website. “Ben was placed on the Reserve/Injured list on Aug. 31, ending any chance for him to play for us in 2009, so there was never a question of the Club attempting to get him ‘cleared to play.’”
Two key words are missing after “cleared to play.” For us. The Bengals believed he was able to play, which means they no longer had to pay him for an injury he suffered in their training camp.
It’s misleading for the Bengals to suggest that they didn’t believe Utecht was ready to play. By cutting him off, they necessarily did.
Ultimately, the $926,000 that was saved has been lost, and Utecht has gotten what he deserves. Hopefully, it will be easier for future players in similar situations to do the same.