The NFLPA alleges that the New England Patriots, including Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick, and the former team physician, were involved in a plan to alter or withhold treatment of a former player in an attempt to force him to return his signing bonus.
The story's in the Washington Post today, and it's a doozy—if complicated. It concerns DE Jonathan Fanene, who played seven seasons for the Bengals before signing with New England in 2012. Fanene—who had passed two physicals— was cut by the Pats before that season started, with Belichick telling reporters that "It just didn't work out...Nothing to add other than that."
Behind the scenes, though, Belichick was allegedly communicating with team physician Thomas Gill, and the Patriots were attempting to bolster a claim that Fanene had been released for "failure to disclose physical condition." If that were supported, the Patriots would have been entitled to recover Fanene's $3.85 million signing bonus.
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.
In its grievance letter, the players' union alleged that Gill initially scheduled Fanene for arthroscopic surgery to treat a knee injury. However, he subsequently "took the direction of Head Coach Bill Belichick" to "play four corner offense" (a metaphorical reference to a stalling tactic in basketball) and delay any surgery, and "ultimately Dr. Gill refused to do the surgery at all," advising Fanene that if he wanted the surgery, he should use his personal physician.
There is another reference to an email from Gill to owner Robert Kraft and team president Jonathan Kraft, in which the doctor wrote he was "trying to put together a case" to legally withhold Fanene's signing bonus.
The details of these communications are, unfortunately, private. The Post only discovered the references to them when the grievance letter was filed as an exhibit in the unrelated lawsuit accusing the NFL of dangerously doping players numb with painkillers to keep them on the field. Neither the Patriots nor Fanene can legally discuss it, either: they reached a settlement for an unknown amount, and their deal precludes Fanene from filing a civil case against the team.
Belichick did have this to say this morning:
The doctor, Thomas Gill, is no longer with the team, which announced that he was stepping down this past April. He was no stranger to controversy; he was accused of botching treatment of Rob Gronkowski's broken arm, an injury that eventually required four surgeries to fix. Gill, who also served as the Red Sox's medical director until 2011, was accused of misdiagnosing and mistreating Jacoby Ellsbury's broken ribs in 2010.
Now is a good time (there is never a bad time) to remind NFL players that their team physicians may not always be providing them with the best medical care, and almost never have their best interests in mind.
NFLPA grievance: New England Patriots doctor put team ahead of patient [Washington Post]