Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The National Football League – do they take care of their own?

“Wherever this flag's flown – we take care of our own.”

In the first single from his upcoming album, Bruce Springsteen repeats again and again, “Wherever this flag's flown – we take care of our own.” Springsteen is asking a bittersweet question but failing to get an answer. The “voice of an American generation” questions how America and Americans are reacting to each other in these tough economic times. While not linked to the current plight retired National Football League players are facing, most retired NFL’ers have to be wondering why the NFL hasn’t taken care of its own.

Friday, 11 retired NFL players filed a lawsuit against the NFL in federal court in New Orleans. The lawsuit claims each of them has developed mental or physical disabilities from concussions or concussion-like symptoms, as a direct result of the years they played in the National Football League.

"Those who had sustained concussions reported more problems with memory, concentration, speech impediments, headaches and other neurological problems than those who had not been concussed," the lawsuit says. The lawsuit claims the league has only recently taken action to address the problem.

The other plaintiffs are: Tyrone Hughes, Eric Hill, Curtis Baham, Raion Hill, Maurice Hurst, Treverance Faulk, Keaton Cromartie, Vince Buck, Charles Commiskey and Tyrone Legette. Wives of the players also are named as plaintiffs in the suit.

The Louisiana lawsuit follows the consolidation of similar lawsuits that were filed on January 31 in Philadelphia Federal Court.

The NFL is a business that annually generates more than $9 billion. The latest collective bargaining agreement the National Football League and the NFL Players Association agreed to in early August (a landmark ten-year agreement) failed to address long-term medical benefits most NFL players need once they retire.

In addition to a lack of health coverage, many retired players face the same hardships millions of Americans are dealing with each day.

The Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund (GGAF) a group that works with retired NFL players facing financial hardship has been circulating information that offers a startling look at the terrible life some retired NFL players are facing:

• Former running back with the Miami Dolphins, suffering financial hardship because of the changing economy. He has changed jobs a few times in the last few years, each with a pay cut, all while taking classes so he can get a better job and provide for his high school age son. GGAF helped with one month of mortgage payments.

• Former punter with the Packers and Rams, suffering financial hardship because of cutbacks at his job. He is financially responsible for his young son. GGAF helped with utilities and rent.

• Former linebacker with the New Orleans Saints, suffering financial hardship since last year when his wife was diagnosed with cancer and has been unable to work. GGAF helped with mortgage payment.

• Former linebacker with the Detroit Lions, suffering from an incurable disease and has medical bills and financial hardships. GGAF helped with mortgage payments.

• Former wide receiver with the Jets and Ravens, suffering financial hardships due to his job not paying him over the summer. GGAF helped reconnect his utilities.

• Former running back with the Patriots, Falcons and Rams, currently living through a Chicago winter with water and gas pipes that were not working. GGAF helped negotiate with the contractor for donated services, so that he and his family would have heat and hot water.

• Former running back with the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills, suffering financial hardship due to the economy and high medical/prescription costs, was pawning his possessions to pay for his prescriptions and food, most of the time having to choose which to buy. GGAF helped pay for rent to keep him from being evicted, and to keep his utilities on.

• Former running back with the Bengals and Buccaneers, suffering financial hardship in this economy. GGAF helped pay for rent.

• Former defensive tackle with the 49ers, suffering from brain trauma from football related injuries, has gone through nine brain surgeries, and suffers seizures. GGAF helped pay bills.

• Former defensive tackle with the Cowboys, Saints and Bears, suffering financial hardship, has trouble working because of memory issues. GGAF helped pay rent so he wouldn't be evicted.

• Former tackle with the Buccaneers, suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome and a reduction of pay due to the economy. GGAF helped with car payments so he wouldn't lose his car.

More than 100 million Americans watched Super Bowl XLVI on NBC. Families across America gathered together to watch the $3.5 million commercials, Madonna’s half time adventure and the New York Giants thrilling 21-17 win over the New England Patriots. More than 100 million Americans have little if any understanding as to what’s happening to the gridiron greats they cheered for on “Any Given Sunday.”

"The NFL knew аbουt the debilitating and permanent effects οf head injuries аnd concussions thаt regularly occur аmοng professional players, уеt ignored аnd actively concealed those risks," ѕаіd Gene Locks, one of the attorneys representing the players.

Craig Mitnick, who represents more than100 players and is Locks’ co-counsel, said "The NFL concussion issue is one whose time has come after being covered up, profitably hidden for many decades. It is long overdue."

Canadian Mike Schad who played in both the NFL and in the Canadian Football League is part of these lawsuits.

"Before they made all those changes I got ear-holed," said Schad, who would go on to play with the Philadelphia Eagles from 1989 to 1993 in a Philadelphia Inquirer report. "Next thing you know, I'm sitting on the sideline."

Central to the various lawsuits – how the NFL treated players once they were injured in a game. Time and time again players (NFL Hall of Fame member Tony Dorsett is one of these retired players suing the NFL) describe experiences were they suffered head related trauma in an NFL game and either returned to play in the game they were injured in, or in their teams’ next game.

Schad became involved in the lawsuits after he learned two of his former Eagles teammates had passed away. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer “safety Andre Waters killed himself at age 44; guard Tom McHale, Schad's backup one season in Philadelphia, died of a drug overdose at 45 after becoming addicted. Each was later found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease in athletes with a history of brain trauma. It can lead to memory loss, confusion, aggression, depression, and dementia.”

Where is the moral outrage from the tens of millions of Americans who NFL football Sundays from early September through Super Bowl Sunday?

"What's a crisis for the league is just the perception of football and its safety and the sustainability of the game,” Robert Boland, a sports law professor at New York University told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "It is the single biggest sustainability concern for the league."

There is a day of reckoning coming for the National Football League. The Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund and other groups working with retired NFL players are getting their message out. The NFL will be forced to deal with their alleged inaction in Federal Court. A business that generates more than $9 billion annually in revenues needs to be “taking care of their own” and needs to be held accountable.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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