Former Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Jonathan Fanene signed a three-year deal with the New England Patriots in 2012 with $3.85 million guaranteed. This happened after the defensive end generated 6.5 quarterback sacks in 2011 -- it was the second season in his final three with Cincinnati with six sacks or more. Within a handful of months, New England released Fanene who, according to a CBA Appeals Panel, withheld a medical condition that required "regular use and need for painkilling medication to practice and play."
In one memo which I obtained, Senior Vice President of Labor Litigation & Policy Dennis Curran stated, "Accordingly, if the Club prevails at the merits hearing, it may be able to recover some or all of the signing bonus paid to the player as a remedy for the player having made material misrepresentations in the course of negotiating the Player Contract."
A settlement allowed Fanene to keep the $2.5 million that was already paid while the Patriots didn't have to pay the remaining $1.85 million that Fanene was due.
One would think that the story was finished, but now the NFL Players Association indirectly went on the offensive on another issue that drew Fanene back into the storyline.
The NFL Players Association, in a court document recently filed in an unrelated case, alleged that a team physician for the New England Patriots altered the medical treatment of a player in an effort to bolster a legal case that would force the player to return his signing bonus to the team.
A grievance letter sent by the players’ union cites an e-mail from former team physician Thomas Gill that the NFLPA contends shows Gill telling Patriots owner Robert Kraft and President Jonathan Kraft that he was "trying to put together a case" that would compel former defensive end Jonathan Fanene to return $3.85 million after he suffered a knee injury in 2012. The letter further asserts that Patriots Coach Bill Belichick directed Gill to delay any surgery on Fanene’s knee while an effort was made to persuade the player to retire, thus forgoing his bonus.
The substance of the grievance provides a window into the potential conflicts of interest and competing pressures that result when physicians employed by teams provide primary care to players. The Collective Bargaining Agreement between NFL owners and players stipulates that a team physician’s primary obligation in providing care "shall be not to the club but instead to the player-patient."
Fanene is unable to address the matter publicly, or file suit against Gill, who is subject of a story that puts the team ahead of the player (which he disputes), due to the settlement that he agreed to. Gill acknowledged that Fanene passed their physical before signing the three-year deal and then another before his release in August 2012.
"It makes serious allegations about the integrity and independence of a team doctor providing medical care to a player," said NFLPA President DeMaurice Smith said. "The allegations would suggest behavior that is completely inappropriate. I will look forward to seeing what the league intends to do as far as investigating this pursuant to their personal conduct policy."
The more we witness how the league treats its players, the more sickening it is to see how these players have a hard time finding support from those that are supposed to support them. Where was the NFLPA in 2012 when Fanene needed help?