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Suing The NFL

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Sean Lee of the Dallas Cowboys, pictured in December 2010, is one of countless players who have suffered concussions during their careers. Now some of them are suing the NFL. (AP)
Sean Lee of the Dallas Cowboys, pictured in December 2010, is one of countless players who have suffered concussions during their careers. Now some of them are suing the NFL. (AP)

On Friday, 60 more former NFL players sued the league.

One of them was quarterback John Brodie, a former MVP, which may explain why the most recent list of plaintiffs/ex-players drew more attention than some of the earlier groups had drawn.

The number of former players involved in concussion-related lawsuits against the league now exceeds 300.

The injuries these players have reported range widely in terms of severity and long-term consequences. The stories about the players suffering the most dramatic consequences have been widely told. They are dead. Their autopsies have revealed chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is brain damage.

A little over two years ago, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told me in a phone conversation that lots of guys who had played pro football weren't complaining about headaches, memory loss, mood swings, or inability to concentrate.

I said that sounded like what the tobacco companies used to say: Lots of people who smoke cigarettes don't get cancer.

He acknowledged the analogy, and backed off the comment.

[sidebar title="Use Your Brain, NFL" width="250" align="right"] Bill 's October 2009 commentary about head injuries in the NFL lead to the above referenced phone conversation with Greg Aiello. [/sidebar]

More recently, the official NFL attitude toward concussions has changed. The league has established new, more sensible guidelines for the treatment of players who've suffered head injuries, and new rules penalize players for helmet-to-helmet hits. Perhaps these changes will help protect current players.

And perhaps not. In a televised interview, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones recently joked that as a college football player, he'd suffered "about 50" concussions. 300-plus ex-NFL players weren't laughing.

Among the current players who've acknowledged that they wouldn't reveal that they'd suffered concussions are Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots, Ben Rothlisberger of the Steelers, and Peyton Manning of the Colts. These players and probably others would deny dizziness, double-vision, and disorientation so they could remain in the game. It's what they've learned to do.

It's too early to know precisely what further effect lawsuits against the league by hundreds of ex-players will have on the product that is pro football and the culture of current players, but therein lies an off-season story that's been building – first invisibly, now publicly - for as long as the NFL has been in business. It's a story that does not seem likely to go away.

This program aired on February 21, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Bill Littlefield Twitter Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.

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