Injured NFL players must be creative when dealing with injuries during the lockout

Mark Gail/THE WASHINGTON POST - Kala Flagg helps former Maryland football players rehab their injuries during the NFL lockout.

They resemble hospital slippers and aren’t particularly flattering. Yet Cleveland Browns defensive lineman Travis Ivey really has no choice but to wear the cloth shoes that have become part of his rehabilitation process.

One of several NFL players currently working under the direction of rehab specialist Kala Flagg at the University of Maryland’s football training facility in Byrd Stadium, Ivey wears the slippers for exercises in which he glides back and forth on a slide board. It’s essentially a slippery sheet of plastic that helps strengthen the right ankle from which Ivey had bone chips removed two months ago.

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“If there weren’t a lockout, I’d be in Cleveland,” Ivey said between sets. “But they know I’m down here. Obviously I can’t talk to them, but Kala, she talks to them and lets them know about everything. At first I thought it was a little strange, but I’m used to it now. If I were in Cleveland, I’d be doing the same stuff.”

The rules of the NFL lockout have left the burly defensive lineman and other injured players in an awkward position as they try to obtain proper medical care for their ailments.

The lockout forced Ivey, a Maryland product, to find his own rehab facility and coordinator because NFL players aren’t allowed access to team facilities, or even permitted to speak with team trainers, until a new collective bargaining agreement is signed.

But according to the NFL, lockout rules permit trainers to speak with third-party medical providers to assist players recovering from football injuries.

So for Ivey and others rehabbing at Maryland, Flagg is the person who most closely resembles an NFL employee these days.

“Anything that happens, their trainers will call me,” said Flagg, an independent contractor who also works with Maryland’s athletes. “It’s weird, because sometimes the guys will be sitting right there while I’m on the phone and they can’t talk to the coaches.”

There has been progress toward ending the NFL lockout, but injured players remain a concern for the NFL Players Association. Because the organization decertified as a union in March, it can’t take any formal action on behalf of its injured members until the lockout is over.

NFLPA spokesman George Atallah said the players are on their own in finding quality medical care, and the care they find generally won’t be as good as they would receive from their teams. “Not to take anything against the trainers helping these players out,” he said, “but it’s just not the same.”

Former Miami Dolphins tight end Joey Haynos, however, said he considers Flagg “just as good as some fancy-schmancy rehab specialist.”

Haynos, a Gonzaga High graduate who played at Maryland, was battling for the starting tight end job with the Miami Dolphins before he sustained a Lisfranc fracture in his left foot during a preseason game last August.

He had season-ending surgery in September, and the Dolphins subsequently waived him.

Once he recovered enough to begin strengthening his foot this winter, Haynos found himself in a situation that many injured U.S. workers confront. He had to find a suitable medical facility near his home in Kensington that would accept his worker’s compensation money. Upon realizing Flagg could be paid with his insurance money, Haynos said the decision to rehab at Maryland was “a no-brainer.”

“Luckily with workers’ comp, the Dolphins are still responsible for covering my injuries,” Haynos said, “so it’s not like we’re locked out and I can’t get any money from them to recover.”

Dean Muhtadi, a former Maryland player who suffered a torn calf muscle less than a week into training camp with the Arizona Cardinals last year, has been slow to recover from his injury.

Before the Alexandria native decided to rehab with Flagg, he paid for a few medical consultations in the area.

“It was almost disturbing to think that if I had an injury and didn’t play ball, that I’d have to go to some of these places that I saw to see therapists,” Muhtadi said. “Not only could people not diagnose my injury, they had no idea how to treat it. We’re really fortunate to have Maryland so close to home.”

It would seem Flagg has the most to gain from this lockout. She worked with Ivey, Haynos and Muhtadi during their playing days at Maryland, but now that she’s fielding calls from NFL teams, Flagg is a valuable intermediary.

Recently, she informed Haynos that the Dolphins had called about his progress and could be interested in bringing him back once the lockout is over.

Flagg realizes, though, that her reputation is on the line.

“It’s a big trust factor, and if I mess up one . . . ” she said before cutting herself off. “But so far things have gone pretty well and teams have been like, ‘Hey, we’ve got a guy who lives in the area and needs treatment.’ They’ve been having such a hard time trying to find places for these guys to go.”

[Flagg’s brother works as an editorial aide in the Sports department of The Washington Post.]

Ivey said last week that his rehab with Flagg has gone so well that he already feels healthier than he did at the end of the 2010 regular season.

Since he has another year on his contract with the Browns, Ivey has stopped worrying about when the lockout will end.

Instead, he focuses on his recovery.

“You have to adjust to your scenarios,” said Ivey after finishing his rehab with a session in Maryland’s cold tub. “We’re in a situation now where you have to work out on your own, you got to get better on your own. Yeah, it’s always cool to have more structure, but even with structure, you still got to do it. They don’t make you do anything.

“The lockout is out of my hands, but I’ll be ready when it’s over.”

 
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