The NFL has been hit with several lawsuits in recent years by former football players accusing the League of hiding the long-term brain injury risks, including dementia and chronic depression. But yesterday, lawyers for more than 2,300 retired players in 86 suits joined forces to file a single “master complaint” against the League, holding them accountable not only for players who’ve suffered dementia, Alzheimer’s, and depression linked to concussions sustained while playing, but for potential problems in players who are currently healthy. If players are right about their choice to ignore research and risk factors, the NFL could have some serious paying up to do; and should be making changes even before they’re out of court.
The complaint charges:
The NFL, like the sport of boxing, was aware of the health risks associated with repetitive blows producing sub-concussive and concussive results and the fact that some members of the NFL player population were at significant risk of developing long-term brain damage and cognitive decline as a result.
Despite its knowledge and controlling role in governing player conduct on and off the field, the NFL turned a blind eye to the risk and failed to warn and/or impose safety regulations governing this well-recognized health and safety problem.
The suit also accuses the League of glorifying violence and “mythologizing” through media.
It may seem far-reaching, but former running back Kevin Turner explained in a statement:
The NFL has the power not only to give former players the care they deserve, but also to ensure that future generations of football players do not suffer the way that many in my generation have.
Another plaintiff,Mary Ann Easterling, is acting in lieu of her late husband, former Atlanta falcons safety Roy Easterling, who committed suicide in April. His case is particularly harrowing: He never earned more than $75,000/year, according to his widow, and started a financial services company after he left the NFL, but was forced to quit because of insomnia, depression, and undiagnosed dementia that spun out of control. She told the Associated Press:
I wish I could sit down with (NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell) and share with him the pain. It’s not just the spouses, it’s the kids, too. Kids don’t understand why Dad is angry all the time.
I think the thing that was so discouraging was just the denial by the NFL. His sentiment toward the end was that if he had a choice to do it all over again, he wouldn’t (play). … He was realizing how fast he was going downhill.
The lawsuit is seeking coverage of health-care costs, monetary damages, and class-action status. The NFL didn’t respond immediately when the complain was filed yesterday afternoon, but spokesman Brian McCarthy eventually said:
Any allegation that the NFL sought to mislead players has no merit. It stands in contrast to the league’s many actions to better protect players and advance the science and medical understanding of the management and treatment of concussions.
While the details of individual cases are too many to debate here, the case presents an interesting moral dilemma, and legally, a chance to set a precedent for other sports. While any sport or physical activity comes with risk , the mounting evidence that football causes severe brain damage via sub-concussion hits to the head during practice and games has become a huge subject of debate in recent years, and one that is bound to eventually end up in court.
Any sport comes with an unavoidable risk of bodily harm (and for that matter, so does remaining entirely sedentary); the NFL shouldn’t be held liable for exposing players to risk any more than a mother should go to jail for putting her daughter in soccer camp. But moms (and coaches) will insist on strapping on knee pads and proper apparel before their daughters play contact sports; the League should take similar precautions. If rules need to be changed and technology needs to be developed to protect players from a lifetime of dementia, dementia, or suicide, the NFL should be the first to propose those changes. It doesn’t lack the resources, and even if League executives aren’t moms, they should realize that their success and earnings rely entirely on the players.