The NFL Players Association announced a partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Thursday to provide medical services and support to former football players.
The program is called "The Trust". It's the result of a multi-million dollar collective bargaining agreement reached after the 2011 league lockout. Bahati Van Pelt is executive director of The Trust. He said the UNC Brain and Body Health Program and its director, Kevin Guskiewicz, were natural partners for the NFLPA.
"[Guskiewicz] has been one of the leaders in the field of brain research, head traumas and specifically how that is effecting college and professional football players," VanPelt said. "It's was really a no-brainer to have UNC-Chapel Hill as part of this organization."
Dr. Mike Lee, co-director of the Brain and Body Center, said the competition was stiff - the Mayo Clinic and Harvard were both in the running as potential partners. But, in the end, UNC was chosen as one of three, along with Tulane University and the Cleveland Clinic.
"All of these athletes will have some type of arthritis or neck pain or back pain," said Lee. "So that's a huge issue we need to deal with." He also acknowledged the recent pressure the NFL has been under to deal with long-term head trauma in its players. He hopes the partnership will establish UNC as the go-to institution for athletes needing therapy.
Though numbers aren't set in stone, both UNC and the NFLPA expect about 150 players to visit Chapel Hill during the first year of the program.
"But to be honest with you," VanPelt said, "if it's 3-4-500 players who go to UNC-Chapel Hill, that's outstanding. We don't have a hard number as far as a cutoff. We just want to make sure when players are in need, we're able to get them to the correct people as soon as possible."
The Trust is scheduled to receive funding -- about $20 million per year -- through 2021.