On February 13, 2023, a Philadelphia jury awarded former NFL player Chris Maragos $43.5 million for the premature and unnecessary end to his NFL career. Maragos’ suit centered on the improper treatment and rehabilitation of his right knee by his medical teams following an injury during a 2017 game against the Carolina Panthers.
During the trial, a recurring theme that emerged was that Maragos’ medical teams prioritized treating the short-term needs of “Chris the football player” over the long-term well-being of “Chris the human being.” Chris’ legal team – spearheaded by Peter Flowers and Frank Cesarone of Meyers & Flowers and Dion Rassias and Jill Johnston of The Beasley Firm – argued that doctors did not give Chris the opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of certain surgical and rehabilitation decisions. Rather, decisions were made for Chris instead of with Chris and ultimately resulted in his retirement from professional football.
The Maragos verdict and case facts contribute to a broader conversation surrounding sports injuries and the value of athletes beyond the athletic skills they offer their team. The settlement has the further potential to set a precedent in the sports world: people over profits, a concept personal injury attorneys are all too familiar with.
While a multimillion-dollar settlement awarded to a former professional athlete may seem unrelatable to the average person, the implications of properly treating sports injuries with an athlete’s long-term wellbeing in mind are as close to home as your nearest high school football field, neighborhood youth travel baseball diamond, or local junior gymnastics studio. Peter Flowers, one of the attorneys for Maragos, appeared on a recent episode of the Karen Conti Show on WGN Radio to discuss the verdict and its implications in sports at all levels. “As a doctor,” said Flowers, “you have to treat the patient as a patient, not as a member of a team.” When asked by host Karen Conti about the takeaway of the verdict specifically for high schools, colleges, and professional sports teams, Flowers emphasized we must ask, “are [doctors] thinking more of trying to get these kids back to play and less of potentially protecting them from hurting themselves in the future?”
Importantly, ethical considerations surrounding conflicts of interest must also be weighed in the context of return-to-play decisions. Conflicts of interest in medicine and sports exist at all levels of sport, even outside of professional sport settings, including high school athletic trainers contracted by a school to treat student athletes; travel and club youth teams sponsored by hospitals or rehabilitation centers; and team physicians paid salaries by the teams for whom they provide medical services.
The Maragos resolution reverberates within the professional sports world and beyond by placing a dollar amount on the dangers of returning athletes to play too soon at the sacrifice of their athletic longevity and overall health. As Maragos’ attorney Frank Cesarone summarized, “The Maragos verdict should serve as a reminder to physicians that they took an oath to do no harm. When it comes to people who just so happen to play a sport for a living, treaters must put the patient first and foremost. This case is a reminder that the person is #1, not the team.” The Maragos trial and jury verdict sends a loud and clear message to managers, coaches, parents, and treaters at every level emphasizing the crucial need to shift from viewing players solely as athletes to recognizing them as people whose wellbeing deserves to be prioritized.