The Dallas Cowboys are a perfect fit for telehealth because they have a history of taking on complex health issues and their teams are on the verge of playing in Super Bowl XLVIII.
But they also are known for their work on the field, and they’re one of the league’s biggest health care players, having been one of four teams to get a medical marijuana prescription last year.
“We have a medical cannabis team here,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in January.
“So we’re really excited about being able to help people and be part of the conversation around that.”
In the past, the Cowboys have used telehealth as a way to push back against public concerns about the risks of smoking pot.
The team was fined $25,000 by the NFL last year for sending out the wrong email.
In an effort to protect players and coaches from potential legal problems, the NFL and the NFL Players Association agreed in March to pay out $1.9 million to players and their parents in the first two months of this season.
But those payments don’t come close to covering the costs of telehealth and its accompanying infrastructure.
And there’s a long way to go before a telehealth system is ready to take on the NFL.
“There are still some questions about how much of an impact the NFL has had on the technology in the past,” said Alex Miller, a research scientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who studies telehealth.
“But that hasn’t been a big factor in terms of the NFL trying to make a push for the league to start taking the lead in that area.”
For the Cowboys, the stakes are high.
In 2018, the team had to pay $1 million in back wages to a former employee who was fired after being found to have been smoking pot at a team facility.
The NFL also spent $3.5 million in the last two years on its own telehealth initiatives, but the league says those investments are mostly focused on providing training and technical support.
The Cowboys also have a long history of pushing for more access to medical marijuana, which was legal in the state of Oregon until it was banned in 2016 by the state’s medical marijuana law.
They’ve also tried to expand telehealth by expanding its reach to schools and hospitals.
So far, they’ve tried to build the infrastructure and set up telehealth clinics in their own stadiums, but they’ve struggled to attract enough qualified people.
The league recently approved the expansion of telemedicine, which allows players and teams to use a telemedically trained physician to administer cannabis oil.
It’s one of many efforts the league has made to build telehealth into the regular NFL schedule, and the Cowboys are not the only team in the league looking at how to make telehealth more accessible.
The Philadelphia Eagles have spent $2 million to expand its telehealth training facility in 2017, but its rollout was delayed due to concerns about safety.
The Seattle Seahawks spent $1 billion in 2017 to expand a telecare facility that’s located at CenturyLink Field, and officials are now planning to expand it to include the entire Seattle area.
The Los Angeles Rams, who play in Carson, California, also recently hired a telemedical advisor to help manage their telehealth efforts.
The San Diego Chargers, who played in Inglewood, California for five seasons before relocating to Los Angeles in 2020, also have spent millions of dollars on telehealth, and there’s been no shortage of interest in the team’s new telehealth facility in Carson.
The new facility, dubbed the San Diego Arena, will feature a telediagnostics center and other equipment that can help patients access the medical marijuana that is legal in California.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for us,” Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa told the NFL Network last year when asked about how the Chargers plan to expand the facility.
“This will be a place where we can do everything we need to do, but it will also be a good place to get the cannabis and get the training, and we’ll also have an opportunity to do a lot of the training at the training facility.”
As the NFL is rolling out the telehealth agenda, teams like the Cowboys and the Chargers are trying to figure out how to take the best of their legacy programs and apply it to their own challenges.
“The Cowboys are going to be the first team to go all-in on it,” Miller said.
“You’ll see teams like that really come together in terms in their approach.
It really helps to have a clear vision.”