Former Vikings guard Brent Boyd, whose claim for full disability payments was rejected in a controversial decision five years ago, was asked Monday to tell his story June 26 during a Congressional hearing that will investigate how the NFL and its union handles disability claims by former players.
Boyd, a former third-round draft pick who played for the Vikings from 1980 to '86, is one of four former players known to be invited to appear before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law. The others are ex-Oakland Raiders lineman Curt Marsh, who has experienced numerous disabling injuries, including the amputation of his right leg; and Hall of Famers Harry Carson and Mike Ditka, outspoken critics of the way the NFL and the NFL Players' Association treat disabled former players.
The NFL recently said 284 former players have received disability payments totaling $19 million. But there are many more asking for payments out of a pool of about 9,000 former players. Boyd is one of them.
Boyd, 50, has been diagnosed with clinical depression and has not worked since 1999. He claims a concussion during a preseason game in 1980 and an unknown number of ensuing concussions left him in a state of constant headaches, dizziness and depression.
Boyd sought full disability payments of $8,200 a month, arguing his disability was the result of a football-related injury. The disability board, which consists of three league and three union representatives, sent Boyd to three doctors and acknowledged afterward that he is "totally and permanently" disabled. But the board refused to accept the findings of the first two doctors who determined that Boyd's disability was caused by post-traumatic organic brain disorder resulting from football-related activity. Instead, the board, using its discretion, accepted a dissenting opinion from the third doctor.
The NFL has not accepted independent studies linking concussions and brain disorders later in life. The league launched a $2 million study on the subject last month and held a conference Tuesday in Rosemont, Ill., to discuss the latest information on treating concussions.
Boyd was awarded the non-football disability payment of $1,550 a month. A district court upheld the disability board's decision, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed it in 2005. Boyd is financially unable to continue his legal battle.
But he has gone public with his complaints and believes a story in Sunday's Star Tribune is what finally got him a seat in front of the Congressional hearing.
"[Congress was] firmly sticking to just the other three players ... [but] that made them create an extra spot for me," Boyd wrote in an e-mail. "All last week, they told me I was first alternate. Now I am on the starting roster."
The hearing, which will be chaired by Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., will attempt to decide whether the current disability claims system is fair and effective when it comes to resolving issues such as Boyd's. Congress took notice because there has been a recent outcry among former players over what they believe is the mistreatment and/or indifference being shown to disabled former players by the NFL, the players union and NFLPA Executive Director Gene Upshaw, a Hall of Fame player.
Upshaw and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sit on the disability board, but do not have a vote. The current voting members of the board are Baltimore Ravens President Dick Cass, Arizona Cardinals Owner Bill Bidwill, Kansas City Chiefs Owner Clark Hunt, and former players Jeff Van Note, Dave Duerson and Tom Condon, a well-known agent who also serves as Upshaws agent.
The NFL is taking steps to educate players and make sure they report concussions, implementing a whistleblower system when training camps start next month. The NFL hopes that will ease pressure on players to take the field with a concussion.
"It's an important element of what we're trying to accomplish here," Goodell said after Tuesday's conference. "... If anyone feels they are being forced onto the field when they are not ready to play, we want to know about that and look into it."
Although details need to be worked out with the union, the new system allows anyone to anonymously report when doctors are pressured to clear players or when players are pressured to play. It's one of several changes the league is making in its effort to manage concussions.
"I think players will do a better job policing," said veteran cornerback Troy Vincent, president of the NFLPA. "You're in the huddle, you see your colleague's dinged, just tell the official."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.