The National Football League is a billion dollar entity that provides the United States with its most popular sport every Sunday for 6-7 months each year. However, that success and the league’s entire future may be in danger now that more than 2,400 former players have come forward, accusing the league of knowingly subjecting them to serious brain injuries and concussions throughout the last several decades.
Likening their health to the victims of Big Tobacco, these former NFL players believe that the league and teams were aware that multiple concussions were detrimental to the players’ lives, in that they were responsible for brain damage. The players also believe that the NFL withheld information that was valuable to their livelihoods and careers. The NFL’s leaders, of course, deny that they have ever knowingly withheld information or neglected the best interest of player health.
The NFL contends that the league has been increasingly proactive over the last two decades, having paid out more than $1 billion in pensions and disability, according to the Associated Press. Additionally, the NFL founded the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee in 1994 as a means to research and investigate the effect of harsh physical contact on the players’ heads and spines. In 2010, this committee became the Head, Neck and Spine Committee, led by Dr. Hunt Batjer, Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at the Northwestern Memorial.
According to the NFL, the latest incantation of the committee is responsible for the following:
Ensuring that NFL team medical staffs have ongoing access to information on the best technology and research on the prevention and treatment of head, neck and spine injuries;
Studying injury data and equipment research to assist the NFL, its teams and its players in providing the safest environment for minimizing injuries to the head, neck and spine;
Examining the latest treatment strategies and sharing information with medical staffs and players the best practices regarding treatment of injuries to the head, neck and spine.
Additionally, the NFL has new concussion policies and testing in place for current players that disallows any player who fails an on-field exam from returning to the game. While a clear indicator of progress, this fails to address the concerns and accusations of the former players.
The league is expected to file for a quick dismissal of these lawsuits under the reasoning that the former players are not protected by the current league Collective Bargaining Agreement. Regardless, experts confirmed to the AP that a reasonable outcome of these lawsuits would be a giant settlement between the league and its former players.