Well, Deadspin, I’m glad you asked. I answered this very question over three years ago.
Here’s what I said (rhetorically asking if concussion are the NFL’s black lung):
Think about those numbers? If you ran a manufacturing plant, would you be content with a “Days Without Injury” calendar that was forever set on “zero?” And, more to the point, wouldn’t you expect OSHA eventually to take interest in your extraordinarily unsafe workplace?
All the way back in 2008, OSHA opined that it has the jurisdiction to regulate professional sports if the athletes are employees. There is no doubt that NFL players, protected by a labor union and parties to a collective bargaining agreement with the NFL, are employees, subject to OSHA’s regulatory jurisdiction.
OHSA lacks a standard on pro sports, but it does have its general duty clause. It provides, “Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” OSHA used this general duty clause to cite Sea World of Florida following a trainer’s death from a killer-whale attack. If the general duty clause can reach the entertainment industry, why can’t it also reach professional sports?
While OSHA likely can reach pro sports, the bigger question is will it? On its own accord, history shows that the answer is no. But, what if the NFLPA believes that the NFL isn’t doing all it could to reduce the risk of head injuries and files a complaint with OSHA? What then? Or, what if, god forbid, a player dies on the field during a game? Surely, OSHA would then investigate. For years, the government and the coal industry ignored the risk of black lung disease, even as more and more miners fell ill. The NFL has the power to regulate head injuries. It better be sure it is doing everything it can, or it is taking a huge risk that OSHA will step in and regulate in the league’s place.
*Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash