A day after Kelechi Osemele defied the New York Jets’ recommendation by having shoulder surgery, the team ended the standoff over the veteran guard’s treatment by releasing him Saturday.
Osemele underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder Friday in Boston and the team considered his absence unexcused with the surgery unauthorized. The handling of the injury set off an impasse between the player and team, with Osemele filing a grievance with the NFL Players Association because the Jets had been fining him the amount of his weekly, $579,000 game checks. That was the maximum allowed under the collective bargaining agreement. Osemele is due roughly $5.2 million of his fully guaranteed $9.85 million contract over the last nine weeks of the season.
“They owe him the balance of his contract both under the standard injury guarantee provision of the player contract and under termination pay,” Osemele’s agent, Andrew Kessler, said in a statement to ESPN. “We will pursue through that and all fines to be rescinded through grievances.”
The Jets traded for Osemele, 30, in March, and he said he has felt pain in his shoulder since training camp. He has not played or practiced since he said he further injured the shoulder in the Sept. 22 loss to New England.
That set off a conflict over the injury. The Jets’ team doctor and an independent physician believed that the injury was preexisting. Osemele disagreed, saying that he received treatment and anti-inflammatory drugs over the first three weeks of the season. He isn’t the first NFL player, increasingly aware of the long-term dangers of anti-inflammatories, to weigh his long-range health against a team’s short-term interests.
“I need to take care of my body,” he said Wednesday (via NJ.com). “I need to take care of my health. I’ve got a family. I’m going to take care of myself.”
He told reporters that he had been receiving injections of Toradol, a powerful anti-inflammatory, but that it was losing its effectiveness and he has been having trouble raising his arm.
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“A lot of guys play through injuries,” he said. “but once it stops working and it doesn’t do anything for you anymore, then you’re at the point of ‘What do I do now?’ Do I take Vicodin? Where is the line? How much should a player play through pain? Am I just supposed to be in pain and miserable every day?”
Jets doctors, he said, told him he would need surgery eventually but could use cortisone shots and a shoulder brace. A doctor unaffiliated with the team told him to have surgery if the pain was too much. A third opinion from Dr. Glen Ross in Boston, Osemele wrote in a now-deleted Instagram post, recommended “a right shoulder arthroscopy, labral repair and cyst debridement.” Damage in his shoulder was, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported, more serious than originally believed and Osemele’s agents and the NFLPA may take action against the team and its doctors.
“Our union supports every player’s right to a second medical opinion, workers’ compensation and the best medical care,” the union said in a tweet last week. “It is not appropriate or ethical for employers in any line of work to dictate the medical care and treatment of any employee. We are considering all options to protect Kelechi Osemele, as we would for any of our members.”
The Baltimore Ravens drafted Osemele out of Iowa State with a second-round pick in 2012. After four seasons in Baltimore, he signed a five-year, $60 million contract with the Raiders.
“I’d be lying if it wasn’t frustrating to be in this position, considering what I’ve been able to accomplish and the type of player that I am,” Osemele said. “To be dealing with a situation like this is slightly disrespectful, but it’s outside of my control and I’m trying to be positive about it.”