In a development that could actually undermine the concussion lawsuits filed by thousands of former players, former Bengals tight end Ben Utecht has won an arbitration proceeding filed after he suffered a serious concussion during training camp in 2009.
The arbitration focused on whether Utecht could have been cleared to play at any point in the 2009 season. The Bengals argued that he could have been cleared, which would have reduced their obligation to pay his salary for the entire year. Utecht argued, successfully, that he should not have been cleared, and that he should have received his full salary.
The arbitrator agreed with Utecht, ordering the Bengals to pay his full salary for the 2009 season.
The money at issue was relatively small in the grand scheme of things, given that Utecht was released from injured reserve by the Bengals in mid-November of 2009. The fact that the Bengals would even fight over an issue that arose only weeks after the NFL embarked on a series of sweeping changes aimed at ensuring players with concussions are kept out of harm’s way until healed illustrates that the organization remains, to put it gently, extremely careful with money.
Still, the outcome proves that the NFL and NFLPA have crafted internal procedures that are available for players who have grievances regarding concussions. That remains the threshold defense to the concussion lawsuits, with a ruling now expected in September — unless the parties settle the case via mediation.