Big Money? … The Truth About Athletic Team Doctors

Many young high school students preparing to further their education in the medical field are swayed by the allure of becoming the Team doctor, chiropractor, physiotherapist or trainer.

When I was in chiropractic school a professor told me chiropractors in the NFL made a salary of $250,000 per year. I believe my professor was telling me what they thought to be the truth  although they have been misinformed.

I recently read a wonderful article in the Canadian Chiropractic Association magazine, Back Matters, about the chiropractor for the CFL’s Toronto Argos. It was a very engaging read. What struck me as odd was that there was no mention of financials, abstract business arrangements, or any indication of how a chiropractor on a CFL team is reimbursed for their time.

The reality is that chiropractors in the CFL and NFL do not get reimbursed fairly for their time. Essentially, it is volunteer work – and it is the same for the medical staff as well. A team medical doctor in the CFL makes a little over $2,000 per year in travel stipend. In fact, believe it or not, the team MDs in the NFL actually pay anywhere from $300,000 to $750,000 per year to be the official group MDs for that NFL team. Chiropractors in the NFL and CFL usually receive tickets, memorabilia, and team clothing as compensation. These were all verified by team DCs and MDs from both respective football leagues.

A CFL team medical doctor, who asked to remain anonymous, said doctors in pro sports in Canada usually receive a minimal travel stipend. This doctor contends that MDs, DCs, physios, chiropractors and trainers are all undervalued in Canadian athletics. “Most MDs do it because they love the sport. It definitely does not have a financial reward. It’s a personal reward.”

The CBA allows NFL teams to hire medical groups who pay the team between $300,000 to $750,000 per year to be considered as the team’s official doctors. The medical group who becomes the team doctors can recoup their money by billing players and team staff for all medical services provided that year. The NFL teams then use a portion of the money paid to them to advertise for the medical groups at games, on TV and print media.

Wait a second. The doctors pay the team? According to Dr. David Geier, a medical doctor, this is actually true.

“Often there is a separate contract that allows the physicians to advertise that they are the official team physicians. Those contracts involve huge amounts of money. Whether paying a lot of money to advertise serving as a physician for a pro team generates enough patients to make it worthwhile is debatable,” Geier says.

In an article by Darren Rovell, NFL Raiders’ team medical doctor for eight years, Dr. Robert Huizenga, said: “In this arrangement, a medical organization provides the team doctors often for free and also pays for a marketing arrangement which advertises the deal to fans. Does the Hospital For Special Surgery in New York really have the best doctors for the Mets, Giants, Knicks, Nets and Red Bulls or is it because they pay for the right to say they treat the teams?”