Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Over 4,000 former NFL players say the NFL
glorified violence and hid known concussion risks for years.
They also took me off to the side and said there is no Santa Claus.
U.S. District Judge Anita Brody heard arguments on Tuesday in Philadelphia on
whether a series of lawsuits against the NFL belong in courtroom or in
Brody's ultimate decision, which could take months, will either enable those
thousands of players to pursue lawsuits, or find that head injuries are
covered under the health provisions of the collective bargaining agreement
between the NFL and its players.
The difference would likely shift billions of dollars, spark appeals by the
loser and spawn years of litigation.
NFL lawyer Paul Clement argued that teams bear the chief responsibility for
health and safety under the CBA, along with the players' union and the
"The clubs are the ones who had doctors on the sidelines who had primary
responsibility for sending players back into the game," Clement said at a news
conference after the hearing.
Players' lawyer David Frederick countered with the glorification and
monetization card, citing the hard-hitting NFL Films productions often
highlighting big hits.
To me and many others, that's a red herring and should be stipulated to by both
sides because it's common knowledge both sides knew of and benefited from those
types of videos.
The far more serious charge from Frederick accused the league of concealing
studies linking concussions to neurological problems for decades, even after
the NFL created a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury committee in 1994.
That's not only plausible, it's been the league's calling card.
Remember the StarCaps story?
At one point in the legal jockeying during that case, U.S. District Judge Paul
Magnuson dismissed a lawsuit brought by the NFLPA behalf of Minnesota Vikings
Pat and Kevin Williams and a few others.
However, Magnuson sent the original lawsuit back to the more liberal Minnesota
State Court. Magnuson clearly loathed the NFL's position and behavior in the
case, but, because of the one-sided collective bargaining agreement that the
players signed with the league, was handcuffed and unable to do anything about
So, he tried (and ultimately failed) to send the whole mess back to Minnesota,
troubled that NFL executives knew StarCaps contained bumetanide but did not
notify the players.
Legally, the NFL did not have that responsibility but seemed to be playing a
game of "Gotcha" instead of instituting a meaningful, substantive drug testing
program that helped its players.
During the case, the NFL's "independent" drug administrator, Dr. John Lombardo,
acknowledged that he learned in late 2006 that StarCaps contained bumetanide
and didn't inform the players, claiming that "he feared that a specific
warning regarding StarCaps could be used as a defense to alleged violations of
the steroid policy that involved weight reduction products other than
By failing to disclose the fact bumetanide was in StarCaps, the league
essentially entrapped players for ingesting an over-the-counter supplement.
Perhaps more importantly, though, the NFL exposed its own players to
significant health risks associated with the unintentional ingestion of
The point being, the NFL's policies have always favored public relations over
Frederick brought that kind of accusation to the forefront again Tuesday,
taking direct aim at the brain injury committee.
"It set up a sham committee designed to get information about neurological
risks, but in fact spread misinformation," Frederick said.
It might have been a sham back in 1994 but things have gotten better in recent
years, at least according to concussion expert Christopher Nowinski.
"NFL medical leaders have said that it was the meticulous research of Dr. Ann
McKee, the director of the neuropathology laboratory for the New England
Veterans Administration Medical Centers, that ... published a study linking Lou
Gehrig's death to concussions, that opened their eyes to the depth of the
problem, and having been in those meetings. I think that changed their minds
about the risks of brain trauma," Nowinski said in a previous interview with
The Sports Network.
Nowinski, a former World Wrestling Entertainment performer and Harvard
football player with a long history of concussions, along with Dr. Robert
Cantu, founded the Massachusetts-based Sports Legacy Institute.
Post-mortem analysis of the brain tissue by the SLI of former contact sports
athletes has revealed that repetitive brain injuries, both concussions and
non-concussive blows, could lead to a neurodegenerative disease known as
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
In recent years, dozens of former NFL players have been diagnosed after their
deaths with CTE, and the tragic suicide deaths of Junior Seau, Dave Duerson
and Andre Waters have magnified the issue.
Nowinski himself was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome in June 2003
after getting his bell rung during a WWE match in Hartford, Conn. He performed
for three more weeks before his symptoms became worse and he was forced to
take an extended leave of absence before finally calling it quits when things
hadn't cleared up a year later.
Nowinski began studying the suicide of Waters, the former Eagles star who shot
himself at age 44 in 2006, and also played an integral role in the discovery of
CTE in former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Justin Strzelczyk, who was
killed in a car crash in 2004 at 36 after a 37-mile police chase at speeds up
to 100 miles per hour.
His work helped alert an asleep-at-the-wheel media to the problems going on in
the NFL, as well as the NHL, professional wrestling, mixed martial arts and
Fearing a backlash, the NFL has slowly implemented a much tougher policy
regarding diagnosed concussions, including an examination by an independent
physician not involved in any way with the team of the affected player.
Problems still exist, but Nowinski has called the current policy "strong."
Is it too little, too late, though?
Over one-third of the league's 12,000 former players have joined the
current litigation since the first suit was filed in 2011.
Some who have committed suicide over the years were battling with depression
and alcoholism. Some who are still with us today struggle with pain
medication, dementia, Alzheimer's or even ALS.
Drawing a straight line from all of those problems back to concussions strikes
me as the easy way out.
Head injuries are just part of a cocktail that has been created by the NFL
lifestyle, and as egregious as the NFL's behavior can be at times, blaming
concussions for every single NFL-related tragedy is not only unfair, it's
specious and convenient.
Almost too convenient.
It seems like the American public is always looking for an answer and the
black and white one will do for a society far too easily distracted to seek
out the real truth -- one that can always be found by following the money.
The NFL's tougher stand on concussions began as a strategy designed to fend
off alert media members and save its significant share of a $9 billion-a-year
industry. It was never about the health and well being of its athletes, but
that's been the unintended consequence and a welcome ancillary benefit.
And that's a start.
The Sports Network