The National Football League glorifies the brutality of the sport for profit, according to a complaint filed by thousands of ex-players and their families seeking damages for head injuries suffered on the field.
The NFL is accused of negligence and failing to inform players of the link between repeated traumatic head impacts and long-term brain injuries, including early onset Alzheimer’s, dementia and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, according to a so-called master complaint filed today. The league denied the claims and said it’s reviewing the filing.
The NFL propagates “the fraudulent representation that ‘getting your bell rung,’ ‘being dinged’ and putting big hits on others is a badge of courage and does not seriously threaten one’s health,” according to the complaint filed in federal court in Philadelphia, where lawsuits from across the U.S. have been gathered.
Today’s complaint consolidates more than 80 suits filed by more than 2,000 players, the plaintiffs’ lawyers said in a statement. It follows the deaths of Junior Seau, a 12-time Pro Bowl linebacker who retired in 2010, former Chicago Bears player Dave Duerson, an 11-year veteran, and Ray Easterling, an eight-year player with the Atlanta Falcons.
Seau, who spent most of his 20-year career with the San Diego Chargers, shot himself in the chest at his home in Oceanside, California, on May 2. His family is weighing whether to donate his brain to research.
Duerson shot himself in the chest last year, leaving a note saying he wanted his brain to be studied. His children filed a wrongful-death suit against the NFL.
Easterling, one of seven players who sued the NFL in August, killed himself in April at age 62. His widow, Mary Ann, said he began showing signs of brain damage 20 years ago, including insomnia and depression leading to dementia.
“I firmly believe the NFL could have and should have done more to protect Ray,” she said in a statement. “That’s why I am seeking to hold the NFL accountable.”
Easterling after reaching 40 began to suffer from insomnia and depression, Mary Ann Easterling told reporters today on a conference call. The player was diagnosed with dementia in April 2011, she said.
“The first part of our marriage was wonderful,” Mary Ann Easterling said. “When the insomnia and depression hit, it was like a switch was flipped. He no longer enjoyed being around his family.”
The NFL has known as early as the 1970s about the increased risk of repetitive head injuries, according to the complaint. It allegedly took no substantial steps to address the issue until 1994, when it created a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury committee.
From 1994 to 2010, the league sought to suppress medical literature showing a link between such injuries and post-career brain damage and instead “produced industry-funded, biased and falsified research” concluding that head impacts don’t pose serious risks, according to the complaint.
The reason is economic, the players said. The league, which generates about $9.3 billion a year in revenue, makes money on “ferocious collisions,” according to the complaint. In October 2010, the NFL fined players for “illegal and dangerous hits” and then sold photos of the same hits on its website for $54.95 to $249.95, according to the complaint.
“Vicious hits captured by NFL Films take on the appearance of the slow-motion crash safety test videos that appear in many car commercials -- with players taking on the role of the crash-test dummy,” according to the complaint.
The league began issuing guidelines on concussions in 2007 and last year ordered team doctors and trainers to assess players who have sustained concussions during games.
“The NFL has long made player safety a priority and continues to do so,” Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for the league, said today in an e-mailed statement. “Any allegation that the NFL sought to mislead players has no merit.”
The consolidated complaint includes claims against Riddell Inc., the NFL’s official helmet maker since 1989. Riddell’s helmets are defective in design, unreasonably dangerous and don’t provide adequate protection against head injuries, according to the complaint.
“We are confident in the integrity of our products and our ability to successfully defend our products against challenges,” Riddell said in an e-mailed statement. The company said it’s inappropriate to comment on pending litigation.
Lawsuits against the NFL were consolidated in January before U.S. District Judge Anita Brody in Philadelphia. Complaints have been filed in California, New York, New Jersey, Georgia and Florida.
The NFL owes a duty to players to spell out risks of the game beyond bad backs and arthritic knees, Kevin Turner, a former Philadelphia Eagles running back who suffers from Lou Gehrig’s disease, said on the conference call.
Turner, a plaintiff in the case who retired from the NFL in 2000, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, in May 2010. At least five former NFL players suffer from the disease, Turner told reporters on the conference call.
“I’m not a scientist and I’m certainly no genius but for as long as I’ve known it two and two make four and this thing has just really started to add up,” Turner said. “I just want the NFL to stand up and be accountable for its actions. That’s how we can prevent more people from suffering.”
The case is In re National Football Players’ Concussion Injury Litigation, 12-md-02323, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia).