Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Risk vs. Reward – retired NFL players and their suing game

An additional 62 retired National Football League players and 30 of their wives joined the growing group this past Friday that has filed a lawsuit against the NFL. The complaint alleges fraud and negligence against the NFL and accuses the league of hiding medical evidence about the risks of concussions and failing to warn players they risked permanent brain injury if they returned to play too soon after they sustained a concussion. There are more than 300 former NFL players now involved in one of most important lawsuits in recent sports history.

"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."

Britt Hager, a former linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos, commented, "If the NFL knew that our futures were at risk and covered that medical evidence up, shame on them, they need to do what is right by us."

On January 31 (media day at Super Bowl XLVI), a multidistrict federal judicial panel approved six of the cases to be tried together in Philadelphia, perhaps within a year.

"Here might be the weapon that brings the mighty billionaires to their knees and forces them to accept their liability," says former Vikings Guard Brent Boyd, founder of the player advocacy group Dignity After Football.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the lawsuits filed by the retired players during his “State of the NFL” on February 3, two days prior to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.

“We have done a great deal to try to address issues that are specific to our former players. We will always make sure that player health and safety is the No. 1 priority in the NFL. We will not quit. We are not done yet. We’re going to do what we possibly can to help our retired players, the current players and future players, by making the game safer,” Goodell said.

“And we will do that with rules, we will do that by improving the equipment, and we will do it by making sure that we pioneer research that’s going to make sure we understand all there is about brain injuries, brain disease, and make sure we’re being responsible leaders.”

The NFL is facing multiple lawsuits filed by retired players (and their wives). Legally, Goodell wasn’t in a position to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, given the legal ramifications the NFL is facing.

One question that should be asked – when anyone agrees to work in a profession is it fair to believe that they accept the “physical” conditions of their employment? Football is a violent game, an occupation where men hit each other, run into each other – is there not an understanding of the risks involved with playing professional football?

The genesis of the current lawsuits the NFL is facing date back to July 2011 when 75 retired players filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles claiming the NFL were aware as early as the 1920’s (the NFL began in 1920) of the inherent risks of concussions on players' brains, but concealed the information from players, coaches, trainers and others until June 2010. (That lawsuit and the other related lawsuits will now be heard in a Philadelphia court.)

"For decades, defendants have known that multiple blows to the head can lead to long-term brain injury, including memory loss, dementia, depression and (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and its related symptoms," says the 86-page lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Tuesday.

"This action arises from the defendants' failure to warn and protect NFL players, such as the plaintiffs, against the long-term brain injury risks associated with football-related concussions. This action arises because the NFL defendants committed negligence by failing to exercise its duty to enact league-wide guidelines and mandatory rules regulating post-concussion medical treatment and return-to-play standards for players who suffer a concussion and/or multiple concussions."

However, "It was not until June 2010 that the NFL acknowledged that concussions can lead to dementia, memory loss, CTE and related symptoms by publishing (a) warning to every player and team," says the suit. "The NFL-funded study is completely devoid of logic and science. More importantly, it is contrary to their (the NFL's) Health and Safety Rules as well as 75 years of published medical literature on concussions," according to the suit, which asks for a jury trial and damages.

Four current members of the Football Hall of Fame are part of the current lawsuit, including Tony Dorsett. In the second quarter of a 1984 Dallas Cowboys – Philadelphia Eagles game (Dorsett was playing for the Cowboys) Dorsett suffered a helmet to helmet hit, the hardest hit of his Hall of Fame career.

"It was like a freight train hitting a Volkswagen," Dorsett says now. "Did they know it was a concussion?" he asks rhetorically during an interview with The Associated Press. "They thought I was half-dead."

And what did the Dallas Cowboys do? They shined a light in his eyes, asked him who sat next to him on the Cowboys team bus and put him back in the game in the second half. Dorsett remembers running plays the wrong way in that second half – yet he still managed to run for 99 more yards.

"That ain't the first time I was knocked out or been dazed over the course of my career, and now I'm suffering for it," the 57-year-old former tailback says. "And the NFL is trying to deny it."

What about the risk vs. reward – that playing football is dangerous – and Tony Dorsett was paid to play in the NFL. Much of the money he made while playing football was lost through a series of bad investments.

"Yeah, I understand you paid me to do this, but still yet, I put my life on the line for you, I put my health on the line," Dorsett says. "And yet when the time comes, you turn your back on me? That's not right. That's not the American way."

That, in many ways, is the heart of the matter – how the NFL is treating its former players, the athletes who built the NFL into one of the most successful businesses in the world today. Out of the four major North American sports: the NFL, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League, NFL player contacts are the only ones that are not guaranteed. Only the bonuses players receive when they sign their contracts are guaranteed. The NFL generates in excess of $9 billion annually. In what is arguably the most dangerous professional team sport, the NFL does not offer its players lifetime medical insurance.

There is risk vs. reward in any profession and NFL players are well paid. The real question that needs to be asked (and will be answered in a Philadelphia court): Is the NFL responsible for the quality of life their former players are being forced to lead –and are later-in-life health issues, a direct result of having played in the NFL?

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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