Former NFL Players Sue League for Concealing Dangers of Head Injuries
Seventy-five former National Football League (NFL) players who say they have suffered many health problems due to multiple concussions have filed a lawsuit against the NFL, claiming the league has concealed information since the 1920s on the harmful effects of head injuries.
The lawsuit, filed in Superior Court in Los Angeles on Tuesday, July 19, alleges that the league failed to regulate practices, games, equipment, and medical care; and failed to reveal the dangers of head injuries to coaches, trainers, players, and the public until June 2010.
As Ken Belson and Alan Schwarz write in The New York Times,
The plaintiffs include many players who were active in the 1980s, including Mark Duper, a star wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins; Ottis Anderson, who played for the Giants; and Vernon Dean, who played with the Washington Redskins.
The players claim they sustained multiple concussions that were improperly diagnosed by team medical personnel, leading to short-term memory loss, headaches, vision problems and other ailments. The suit seeks an unspecified amount of damages above the jurisdictional minimum of $25,000.
Thomas V. Girardi, one of the lawyers for the players, compared their injuries to those suffered by soldiers in wars. ‘They’re diminished and they’re not respected as injuries,’ he said. ‘You can’t get hit in the head this many times without causing a problem. You have very subtle injuries that manifest themselves, and there is no question that these young people are injured.’
The suit says the NFL’s medical committee on concussions, which was formed in 1994, came out with many studies saying that concussions have no long-term effect on the players’ health. A pamphlet the league began giving players in 2007 said, “Current research with professional athletes has not shown that having more than one or two concussions leads to permanent problems if each injury is treated properly.”
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league “will vigorously contest any claims of this kind.” Riddell, a football helmet manufacturer, is named as a co-defendant in the suit. In a statement, Riddell said, “We have not yet reviewed the complaint, but it is our policy to not comment on pending litigation.”
In a Yahoo! Sports piece, Chris Chase writes:
It’s too early to tell whether this will be a blip in the NFL’s legal history or signal the start of a monumental shift in the game. If the lawsuit gains any traction, it could very well be the latter.
The Big Tobacco lawsuits are one obvious parallel. To be successful, former players would need to show that the league knew about the dangers of concussions and subsequently covered it up. Getting there would likely take millions of dollars in legal fees and years of trials and appeals. But even if the ultimate judgment isn’t gained, any hint of success could signal a blood-in-the-water moment for former players and, as Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan wrote, open up a Pandora’s Box for the game of football.
In their negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, the league and the players have been discussing ways to make the game safer, to reduce chances for players to receive head injuries.