Posted on December 25, 2011 · Posted in Brain Injury

The National Football League has a real situation on its hands: Last week a batch of lawsuits were filed against it by retired players who allege they sustained long-term brain damage from concussions during their careers on the gridiron.

Last week was also the week when the NFL mandated that there will be an independently certified athletic trainer, whose job it is to keep an eye out for concussion-related injuries, present at every game.

Was this NFL move just coincidental to the suits, or directly related to them, we wonder.

Several ex-player suits were filed in Atlanta early last week, and the other was filed in Miami last Thursday. The latest lawsuit was lodged by former Miami Dolphins Patrick Surtain, Oronde Gadsden and 19 other players, according to the Associated Press.

That suit alleges that the NFL hid evidence that tied concussions to long-term brain injury. Essentially, the players alleged that the league downplayed the dangerousness of their concussions “with the intent of inducing NFL players, including plaintiffs, to return to play as soon as physically possible after having suffered a football-related concussion and to promote an aggressive style of football that would attract viewers,” accordingt to AP’s quote from the lawsuit.

The litigation noted that  in the wake of scientific evidence about the long-term impact of concussions, the NFL formed a committee in 1994 to study the issue. But, according to the lawsuit, this supposedly independent committee in 2003 found that concussions didn’t create long-term harm to the brain.

In 2010, the lawsuit rather pointedly noted, the NFL canned the heads of that research committee, and the new chiefs of the committee described the original research was flawed and “infected,” AP reported.

In Atlanta last Wednesday several suits were filed on behalf of  former Green Bay Packer Dorsey Levens, Jamal Lewis, Fulton Kuykendall and Ryan E. Stewart.

Those suits charged that the NFL “has done eveything in its power to hide the issue and mislead players” about the effects of concussions going back to the 1920s, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Levens’ lawsuit said that he sustained multiple concussions during his eight-year tenure with the Packers. The retired player, who now resides in Atlanta, also played for the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles.

According to the Journal Sentinel, the suit says, “Levens was not warned by defendants of the risk of long-term injury due to football-related concussions or that the league-managed equipment did not protect him from such injury. This was a substanial factor in causing his current injuries.”

Now Levens has brain injuries and symptoms such as headaches and memory loss, according to his suit.

The NFL issued a statement in response to that first batch of suits. It was denial, as usual. The Journal Sentinel printed it.

“The NFL has long made player safety a priority and continues to do so. Any allegation that the NFL intentionally sought to mislead players has no merit. It stands in contrast to the league’s actions to better protect players and advance the science and medical understanding of the management and treatment of concussions.”


On the topic of lawsuits, we like what AOL FanHouse columnist David Steele had to say. First of all, he pointed out that there were actually three groups of recently filed suits against the NFL regarding concussions. One was filed in Miami earlier this month by 12 plaintiffs, including the New Orleans Saints Kyle Turkey and Patrick Surtain. According to Steele, that lawsuit charges that the NFL gave them an anti-inflammatory drug that “magnified the severityy of concussions.”

“Two lawsuits filed this week by retired players suffering the effects of concussions from their playing days remind everybody that the league still has to answer for itself over its years of neglect,” Steele wrote.

He then referenced the Dec. 8 incident when Pittsburgh Steeler James Harrison did a helmet-to-helmet hit on Colt McCoy of the Cleveland Browns. Harrison was suspended, but the Browns’ handling of McCoy’s had injury was less than exemplary.

Here is what Steele had to say about all this:

<em>Harrison deserved the suspension he received, as a repeat offender and as someone who flouted a clear-cut rule when he hit McCoy helmet-to-helmet late in that Steelers-Browns game.

The Browns, though, deserved punishment for somehow having everybody in their employ, on the field and up in the coaches’ booth, overlook that McCoy, their starting quarterback, was stretched out and motionless on the field after a hit that, literally, halted the game. Not only has McCoy yet to recover, he could not even make the trip to Baltimore for Saturday’s game.

Instead of punishing the Browns — holding them accountable under the league’s own guidelines — the NFL passed the buck. With the union leaning hard on it, the league added an independent trainer, to be approved by league and union, to each game to avoid another oversight.

The NFL responded to a player’s reckless disregard for his and an opponent’s safety with punishment. It responded to a team’s reckless disregard by changing the rules.

It reeked of a double standard. It sends a dangerously conflicted message. It drives yet another wedge between players like Harrison and the league — and between Harrison and his fellow players who are perceived to be punished differently, a perception that does nothing but negatively affect how those players act every time a chance to make the safe, rational decision presents itself.</em>

Steele, rather accurately, wrote that the culture of the game  is a huge obstacle when it comes to concussions.

“The lawsuits and the Harrison-McCoy play from two Thursdays ago illuminate the troubling fact that the culture that created this ongoing concussion problem isn’t changing anytime soon,” Steele wrote. “Players will still not only fight to keep playing at the expense of their own health, and they’ll keep disregarding what they claim to know about the risks in order to keep playing exactly as they always have.”

Let’s hope Steele isn’t right about that.

About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447