Philadelphia will be front and center in the National Football League’s latest legal woes, this time relating to concussions and their continuing effects on players lives and well-being long after they have retired.
Over 300 lawsuits have so far been filed by former football players or their spouses. Four of these cases will be consolidated and heard in Philadelphia by Senior U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody.
So far cases have been submitted by players in Pennsylvania, Georgia, New York and New Jersey. Attorney Larry Coben filed the first lawsuit in August on behalf of two-time Super Bowl winner Ed McMahon and six other individuals. He said of the consolation of cases,
“(This) allows Judge Brody to now bring everybody together and put this in an organized environment where all the legal issues and the medical issues and the scientific issues can all be decided in one place.”
The cases allege intentional misconduct on the part of the NFL with regard to concussion related symptoms such as dizziness, headaches and dementia.
At the core of the issue is chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease that affects individuals who have experienced multiple head injuries and has in particular affected former NFL and NHL players. The suicide of former Chicago Bear Dave Duerson one year ago is a recent example of the tragedy that brain injuries sustained on the field have on the lives of players and their families long after their playing days are over.
Duerson was so convinced that the injuries he sustained during his playing career affected what he was about to do that he chillingly shot himself through his chest in order to preserve his brain for testing to further study the effects of CTE.
Brent Boyd, a former Minnesota Vikings lineman, is the only known living player who suffers from the condition.
As for what will take place in Philadelphia, Judge Brody will review pretrial evidence and findings that may pertain to the case to determine what is relevant and allowable. It is possible that the cases will then return to the districts in which they were filed after Judge Brody has completed her findings.
The NFL seems to be exploring a controversial approach to avoiding such lawsuits from players in the future. FOX Sports reports that the league is seeking to adopt language into contracts beginning in April following the draft that will prevent players from seeking legal recourse for any head injuries sustained during their playing careers. Per the report,
“Sources told The Daily a legal team is preparing a waiver that the NFL wants to insert into contracts of new players, starting with the draft in April. It would stipulate that the league will do its best to educate and protect players from concussions and head injuries, but the athletes will not be able to sue the NFL for any long-term medical issues caused by such injuries.”
The NFL faces an enormous challenge and responsibility in continuing to learn about the medical implications of repeated brain injuries and its role in preventing them. The league must manage the lawsuits against it and do right by those who gave their well-being to play football while at the same time constantly reviewing procedures for current players. While it is understood that football is a violent game, too many men have played too high a price playing America’s most popular sport.