Former tight end Ben Utecht won an arbitration hearing Wednesday against the Cincinnati Bengals and will be paid the remainder of his 2009 salary after he suffered a concussion during training camp that season and was later released.
He was released by the Bengals from injured reserve in November 2009 after the team claimed he could have been cleared to return from the injury. Utecht disagreed, saying he should not have been cleared, and the NFL Players Association filed a grievance.
"In 2009 my NFL career was promising, but it ended suddenly with a brain injury. Three years later my family and I have closure with the successful conclusion of my contract dispute," Utecht said in a statement.
"We are grateful for the support we have received from all of our friends in professional football and beyond. I will continue to help the NFL in any way I can to educate people about brain safety and the seriousness of this issue."
The Bengals said in a statement that they disagreed with the ruling but would abide by it.
"He was not released until Nov. 17, so he was carried on the payroll for more than three months after the Aug. 5 injury, and he was then released, on the advice of an independent neurologist that the timing was proper. Ben received excellent medical care throughout the process. This is simply a CBA and contract case. We disagree with the finding that the release should have occurred at a later point, but at this point we must accept it and move on," the team said in a statement.
Utecht suffered five documented concussions during his college and pro career and still battles memory loss. He now sings professionally and will release a new album and book before the end of the year.
The arbitrator ruled Wednesday that Utecht "had not been sufficiently tested, both in his aerobic and strength reconditioning program, nor had he been tested in sport specific activities which would be a more accurate means of determining whether the damage caused by the concussion had 'cleared.'"
"This decision upholds our players' rights to continued salary payments while injured and should provide important guidance for players and clubs in determining when it is appropriate to return to play after a player suffers a severe concussion," Tim English, the players' association attorney who represented Utecht, said in a statement.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in a statement to ProFootballTalk.com that the decision proves the arbitration system works.
"The decision demonstrates that our collective bargaining agreements provide players with comprehensive remedies for football-related injuries, including injuries related to concussions," Aiello told the website.