Friday, June 08, 2012

The NFL – they don’t take care of their own

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

In the first single from his current 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.

Thursday, a lawsuit that included more than 2,200 former National Football League players was consolidated into one lawsuit -- in the "master complaint" filed Thursday in Philadelphia. The lawsuit contends the National Football League willfully withheld information that linked football-related head trauma to permanent brain injuries. Almost as important, helmet maker Riddell is part of the lawsuit.

"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," the complaint charges.

"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."

It seems unimaginable those who played in the National Football League didn’t understand the inherent risks in playing a sport that has been called “an organized car wreck.” It seems incomprehensible the “Lords of the Pigskin” NFL owners and league management haven’t focused more on player safety and in particular the health and the welfare of their employees.

"Our legal team will review today's filing that is intended to consolidate plaintiffs' existing claims into one `master' complaint," the NFL said in a statement. "The NFL has long made player safety a priority and continues to do so. 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."

If you ask the National Football League – the league has “done right by their players”. The league likes to talk about the billion dollars they have spent on player pensions. The league likes to talk about the 88 Plan, named after Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey, provides funding to treat dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and ALS. Players do not need to demonstrate that the condition was caused by their participation in the NFL. The league likes to point out a series of medical benefits to former NFL players to help them after football, including joint replacement, neurological evaluations and spine treatment programs, assisted living partnerships, long-term care insurance, prescription benefits, life insurance programs, and a Medicare supplement program. Clearly it isn’t enough.

Former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling, who had been a named plaintiff in a suit filed last year. Easterling played for the Falcons from 1972 to 1979, helping to lead the team's "Gritz Blitz" defense in 1977 that set the NFL record for fewest points allowed in a season. He never earned more than $75,000 from the sport. Easterling died on April 19, 2012, at the age of 62. His death was ruled a suicide. It is believed that Easterling shot himself due to clinical depression resulting from dementia "as he lost the ability to focus, organise his thoughts and relate to people", with the dementia itself the result of the lifetime of head injuries during Easterling's career.

"I think the thing that was so discouraging was just the denial by the NFL," Mary Ann Easterling told the Associated Press. "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."

"After voluntarily assuming a duty to investigate, study, and truthfully report to the public and NFL players,
including the Plaintiffs, the medical risks associated with MTBI in football, the NFL instead produced industry-funded, biased, and falsified research that falsely claimed that concussive and sub-concussive head impacts in football do not present serious, life-altering risks," the complaint reads.

Dave Duerson was a member of the Chicago Bears 1985 Super Bowl winning team. He was a four time member of the Pro Bowl team. Duerson was found dead at his Sunny Isles Beach, Florida home on February 17, 2011. The Miami-Dade County medical examiner reported that Duerson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. He sent a text message to his family saying he wanted his brain to be used for research at the Boston University School of Medicine, which is conducting research into chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) caused by playing professional football. On May 2, 2011 researcher neurologists at Boston University confirmed that he suffered from a neurodegenerative disease linked to concussions. Football killed Dave Duerson.

And then Junior Seau committed suicide last month -- by pointing a gun at his chest.

“He did what players think you’re supposed to do: save your brain” Daniel Amen, a California-based physician and psychiatrist told The Washington Post. “They have to learn there’s another way. Don’t give up on your brain while you’re alive. Try to fix it.”

The Washington Post reported that “Amen’s research and stated mission — to rehabilitate a damaged brain — gets at the heart of class-action lawsuits filed against the NFL. A master complaint was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia that laid out the claims of more than 2,000 former football players. In addition to personal damages, the complaint outlines the need for medical monitoring, a costly undertaking that would require the NFL to pay for medical testing and treatment for the duration of a player’s lifetime.“Guys are scared. The Junior Seau thing kicked it into a whole other category,” said Von DuBose, one of the attorneys representing former players. “There was a lot of cynicism from folks on the outside looking in. But Junior Seau was NFL royalty. When that happened, it took that layer of cynicism off. It really got folks to thinking, wow, this is a real, real problem. This isn’t a bunch of broke, retired guys looking for a quick payday.”

Amen isn’t interested in money – nor is he interested in fame, he made it clear to The Washington Post as a doctor he sees a much bigger picture how football is damaging football players.

“I could care less about the politics or even the lawsuits,” Amen said. “This is a brain-damaging sport. When we started our research, everyone was actively in denial. They’re changing now, and I’m excited about that. But we got to start talking about the next step: Let’s rehab their heads.”

The lawsuit is going to be very difficult for the players to win. The NFL reportedly is going to try and have the lawsuit dismissed in August. The NFL is likely to point out the players had to know there was a risk playing football. There is a much bigger challenge the NFL is about to face.

The damage to the reputation and to the image of the National Football League could hurt the sport in the eyes of the tens of millions of millions of people who watch and attend NFL games. Even more damaging could be how the league’s sponsors react. General Motors ended their relationship with the Super Bowl, moving away from the NFL and embracing soccer.

The NFL needs to settle this lawsuit before it reaches the Philadelphia court where the case is going to be heard. The league needs to reach an arrangement with its retired players offering their retired players better long-term medical benefits and a better pension plan. The NFL generates more than $9 billion in revenues annually. The NFL has a television contract that pays the NFL more than $4 billion a year. What will the average American and more importantly corporate America believe if the NFL making billions of dollars can’t and won’t take care of its own.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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