Pro Footballs Big Headache

Recently, there has been lots of media coverage of several former, and a few recent football players, who are suffering from long term neurological effects of collision causing concussions. The fancy medical name for it is chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which can cause memory loss, severe headaches, psychosis, depression, and unusually high rates of Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Dementia, and Alzheimer’s.

Concussion head injury

After many months of negotiation, last week the National Football League agreed to pay 765 million to the plaintiffs, avoiding a protracted AND very embarrassing court case over the dangers of playing America’s most popular sport.

Perhaps on the surface it may seem like the players won by getting all that money, but let’s take a look at all the details and see who really came out ahead.

The class-action suit represented 4,500 players who sued over the leagues handling of head trauma. The lawyers were attempting to prove that the league had covered up what it knew about long term brain damage caused by the frequent concussions these jocks suffered playing football. Compounding the case, many players were pressured to return to the field of play way too soon after suffering brain trauma.

The players, as the plaintiffs in the suit, accepted $170,000 each to settle the case. “In essence, the league won,” said Peter King in Sports Illustrated. Most experts predicted a settlement of several Billion; this sum is a drop in the bucket of the leagues 9.5 Billion annual revenue, working out to about $30 million per team. Getting off so easily will certainly help NFL owners “sleep better at night.”

It’s hard, though, to blame the ex-players for taking a settlement, said Scott Fujita, a former NFL linebacker, in the New York Times. Many of the 4500 players are incapacitated by brain damage and are struggling to pay crippling medical and nursing bills, and now they’ll get some badly needed money. If they took the case to trial, it probably would have dragged on for a decade or more, by which time many of the plaintiffs would be dead.

While researching this story I also read and listened to some other interesting observations about the situation;

Someone said they felt sorry for the “small percentage of players” who suffered lasting brain damage, but these guys knew what they were getting into when they signed up to play a violent sport. No one forced them to take the multi million dollar contracts.

One sports blogger claimed he believed that most players thought they would at most  be risking broken bones and damaged joints, since the brain trauma risks was way under reported.


Nowadays, players are bigger, stronger, and faster than their counterparts. Andy Robustelli, a former New York Giant defensive lineman, played at 5’10” and under 200 lbs. Nowadays the kickers who face little or no contact are often bigger than that. So when a 250 lb. linebacker or an agile 350lb. lineman hits a running back or receiver running downfield at full speed, the sudden stop causes both players to have their brains crash into their skulls. Damage occurs, and over time, it becomes cumulative.

Many football fans love the violence in the game. Although most fans have seen the stammering former players complaining about headaches, fading memories, and frequent thoughts of suicide, These same fans scream like banshees and roar like lions when they watch a bone crunching tackle that leaves enemy opponents writhing on the field, awaiting the stretcher.

I wonder if the $170,000 per man settlement is an aberration, or will it set the standard for permanently damaged future players. Subsequent victims might opt for a stand alone case, or with a class-action group, and wait for the court to decide what is the jury’s determination regarding justice.

I guess I was ahead of my time, when my son, who is now 28, wanted to play football at 12. His mother and I talked it over, and we agreed that it was too dangerous to be subjected to permanent injury. He still gave us many nerve-wracking moments when we watched him play basketball and soccer very aggressively. I knew then, and I certainly know now that we made the right decision about playing football. Just last week Bob Costas said he wouldn’t allow his son to play football, joining several other respected, thoughtful, caring, parents. I believe this trend will continue.

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