Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The NFL Concussion lawsuit – the price to be paid

There are now more than 2,200 former National Football League players and/or their families looking for justice. They are looking for a day of reckoning. The largest group of retired National Football League players ever gathered are together as one, united by their belief the National Football League knowingly withheld safety information while they played on Sundays, punishing their bodies while NFL owners made hundreds of millions of dollars and then billions of dollars at their expense.

A week ago a large group of retired players led by Football Hall of Fame member Eric Dickerson and two-time Pro Bowler Hoyle Granger alleged that the NFL did not do enough to prevent the long-term damage caused by concussions. The lawsuit was filed in the Southern District of Texas by the law firm Provost Umphrey.

According to nflconcussionlitigation.com the lawsuit also included the Estates of David Lunceford and Hall of Famer Ernie Stautner. The lawsuit alleges that both players were suffering from Alzheimer’s at the time of their death. Lunceford died at the age of 75 in May 2009, and Stautner died at the age of 80 in February 2006.

Former Browns running back Jamal Lewis is also part of the lawsuit. Lewis spoke with the Cleveland Plain Dealer about how he is living his life today – his life after football as a 32-year old. Lewis was taken as the fifth overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens. After spending his first seven seasons with the Ravens, Lewis signed a free agent contract with the Cleveland Browns prior to the 2007 season.

Lewis last week filed for filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, according to TMZ.com. According to the published report Lewis is calling his bankruptcy a 'reorganization', not total liquidation. The issue Lewis has is that he owns a lot of stuff, with assets totalling $14.45 million. Here's the problem - He also is $10.56 million in debt, and with a net worth of about $4 million, he just doesn't have the cash to pay his bills.

According to the report, he has five homes, a fleet of cars, and a 50-percent share in a Columbus, Ohio water park. Lewis made close to $41 million in his ten-year NFL career, more than enough money to last several lifetimes.

Lewis believes during his football career, a career that spanned high school football and four years at Tennessee that he suffered damage to his brain that he’ll never recover from.

"You got your bell rung," Lewis says. "You got dinged. You don't know that, 15 years from now, this hit or this situation can actually hurt you for a lifetime. Somebody's always fighting for your spot. So it's like, 'Suck it up. Get me back out there. Put me in, coach.' "

Lewis recalled the Browns opening game of the 2009 season, a game the Browns played in Cleveland against the Minnesota Vikings. Early in the second quarter Lewis and member of the Vikings defence ran into each other – their helmets colliding.

"My head was just ringing, and everything was like complete silence," Lewis remembers. "I could hear the [Vikings] coach saying, 'Jamal! Jamal!', asking if I was all right. But that's the only person I could really hear. It was like I was zoned out."

A few plays later (in the same game) Lewis’ replacement was injured, Lewis went back in. The next day an MRI showed a neck bruise, but no one, he told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, mentioned a concussion or ordered a neurological exam.

According the Plain Dealer report: “Lewis had migraines. Insomnia. Blurry vision. Bright lights bored into his skull like an ice pick. He couldn't keep food down, including his traditional pre-game steak. His brain was woozy, his concentration shot. When the quarterback called two plays at a time in the huddle, Lewis would repeat the assignments over and over, trying to hold them in his head.”

He never said anything to the Browns; he was concerned he would be benched. Lewis was in the last year of a three year $18 million contract he signed in 2007. NFL contracts are not guaranteed. Lewis had already been paid close to $35 million in his first nine NFL seasons. If the Browns had cut Lewis (NFL contracts are not guaranteed) Lewis stood to lose more than $6 million.

Lewis read about Dave Duerson, the former NFL all-pro safety whose life unraveled and who suspected his numerous football concussions were to blame. Duerson, killed himself last year. He shot himself in the chest, leaving instructions that his brain should be examined after his suicide.

"I'm 32," Lewis says. "Thank God I'm 32, but it's like, where is this thing going? You wonder what you've already done."

"The NFL has a responsibility," Lewis says in the Cleveland Plain Dealer report. "It's a game that a lot of guys want to participate in, but just because it's a privilege . . . doesn't mean that you should be shorted the information. I know I can go out and tear up my knee or my ankle or my shoulder. But I never knew that from these constant hits to your head, they could cause long-term effects.

"I probably wouldn't have done some of the things I did. A lot of the hits I went to take on for one yard, when I already got 30, I wouldn't have done. I looked at a lot of [running] backs who used to jump out of bounds like, 'You sucker!' But now I look at that guy and say, 'You were a smart runner.' "

Is Jamal Lewis another victim? Lewis earned $41 million in ten-years. Today he is bankrupt. How is it possible anyone could earn $41 million in his 20’s and be bankrupt by the time he turned 32? Lewis made bad business decisions, decisions that cost him a fortune. At the end of the day Jamal Lewis has to take responsibility for his financial troubles.

However is Lewis responsible for what took place in 2009 his last NFL season? Imagine suffering a debilitating injury wherever you worked and knowing that if you decided to report that injury to your employer you stood to risk losing your job and in Lewis’ case losing more than $6 million. It’s easy to suggest Jamal Lewis may have damaged his life, may have suffered permanent brain damage by not telling the Cleveland Browns he was suffering, but Jamal Lewis did not have the benefit of any workers compensation. His employer had the right to cut him and he would be paid nothing.

Of the four major North American sports leagues: the NFL, Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association and National Hockey League, only NFL contracts are not guaranteed. If a hockey player suffers a career ending injury while playing hockey, he is paid the full value his contract. If Lewis had reported he was suffering head trauma the Browns could have cut Lewis and not paid him the $6.5 million he earned in 2009.

More than 2,200 retired NFL players are suing the National Football League. A growing number have been enshrined in the Football Hall of Fame. Most earned far less than the $41 million Lewis was paid during his NFL career. These men all share in pain and suffering, and most believe their pain and suffering could have been avoided if the NFL had taken better care of their health and welfare during their careers. In the not too distant future the NFL will be forced to deal with what has happened to the thousands of retired football players whose bodies were broken and battered.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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