An arbitrator on Wednesday ruled in favor of former Cincinnati Bengals tight end Ben Utecht in an injury grievance case stemming from a career-ending concussion that he suffered during training camp in 2009.
The arbitrator awarded Utecht the remainder of his 2009 salary, which USA Today reported to be $926,471. The arbitrator ruled Utecht should not have been cleared by the Bengals, given that he "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.' "
Utecht, who took a hard hit from Bengals linebacker Darryl Blackstock, lay unconscious on the field during a practice that was featured in a segment on HBO's "Hard Knocks." Utecht was placed on injured reserve Aug. 31, and the Bengals released him Nov. 17. Utecht retired after his release.
The NFL Players Association filed an injury grievance and argued Utecht should have been paid his salary for the period of time he remained injured and unable to play as a result of the concussion.
"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 NFLPA attorney who handled Utecht's case, said in a statement released by the players' union.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello released the following statement: "The decision demonstrates that our collective bargaining agreements provide players with comprehensive remedies for football-related injuries, including injuries related to concussions."
Utecht, who still experiences concussion symptoms, sounded relieved that the dispute has come to a close.
"Three years later, my family and I have closure with the successful conclusion of my contract dispute," Utecht said in a statement releasedon his behalf by the NFLPA. "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."