A National Football League retirement board gave at least $2 million in disability payments to former players in the 1990s and 2000s after concluding that the sport caused their brain injuries, according to ESPN and the PBS television program “Frontline.”
The payments were made to at least three former NFL players, the news organizations said, citing uncovered records relating to the 1999 disability claim of Hall of Fame center Mike Webster, and came as NFL medical experts “consistently denied any link between the sport and long-term brain damage.”
Almost 4,000 retired NFL players have filed lawsuits against the league seeking damages for head injuries sustained on the field, according to ESPN and “Frontline.”
E-mails seeking comment on the report from Greg Aiello, a spokesman for the NFL, and George Atallah, a spokesman for the NFL Players Association, weren’t immediately returned.
The retirement board has seven representatives: three from the owner’s side, three from the players’ side and one non-voting from the commissioner’s office, according to ESPN.
It’s an independent body whose decisions “are not made by the NFL or by the NFL Players Association,” Aiello said, according to ESPN and “Frontline.”
Webster, who played his first 15 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and final two with the Kansas City Chiefs, died at age 50 in 2002.
Traumatic brain damage has been found in the autopsies of at least two ex-NFL players who killed themselves. Andre Waters, a former Philadelphia Eagles defensive back, shot himself in November 2006 at the age of 44. Dave Duerson, a one-time Chicago Bears defensive back, died in February 2012 at age 50.
Former San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau also committed suicide, in May at age 43, while former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling, one of the players suing the league, shot and killed himself at 62, two weeks before Seau.