Family Of Bears Great Duerson Sues NFL

By Chuck Sudo in News on Feb 24, 2012 7:20PM

The family of former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson filed a lawsuit against the National Football League yesterday, accusing the league of hiding the numerous concussions and aftereffects suffered by the Super Bowl champion and Pro Bowler from him, which led to his mental decline and, ultimately, his suicide last year.

Duerson shot himself in the chest and left behind a note requesting his brain be donated to the Boston University School of Medicine's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. A study of Duerson's brain showed he has signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a progressive degenerative disease found in individuals who have been subjected to multiple concussions and other forms of head injury. CTE is most common among pro athletes involved in contact sports, particularly football and hockey players, and professional wrestlers.

The Duerson family's suit accuses the NFL and helmet maker Riddell, Inc. of knowing the effects of concussions on players but hiding them from them, coaches and fans. Duerson's son Tregg said in a news conference yesterday, and said his father's mental decline began at age 40.

“If they knowingly failed to inform and implement proper concussion safety procedures, then their indifference was the epitome of injustice. The inactions of the past inevitably lead to the demise and death of my father.”

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league had not yet seen the lawsuit, but sympathized with the Duersons while reminding that Duerson was an outstanding football player on the field and model citizen in private life.

The NFL has taken (baby) steps to reduce the number of concussions suffered on the field in recent years. Tribune NFL expert Dan Pompeii wrote the league will likely argue that they were as in the dark on the effects of brain trauma as their players and fans and know more now than when Duerson roamed Soldier Field as one of the hardest hitters in the league. Pompeii also indicated the lawsuit may help facilitate a necessary culture of change in the league.

"Not counting Duerson's family, there are currently 657 retired players suing the league for concussion-related issues, according to a league source. A federal judge in Philadelphia had consolidated the 657 complaints into 18 lawsuits.

"Never before has the league been sued over brain issues like this.

"And of the 657 cases, you can bet none are anywhere near as strong as Duerson's. The difference in Duerson's case is that his was the only brain that was studied and found to have advanced brain damage called chronic traumatic encephalopathy.'

...

"Dr. Hunt Batjer, the co-chair of the NFL's head, neck and spine committee, recently told the Tribune there were 50 percent fewer concussions on kickoffs in 2011. That's progress, but not enough.

"This year, a good chance exists the NFL will begin forcing players to wear hip, thigh and knee pads.

"The league also will discuss being more transparent about head injuries, including answering questions about how and why players are allowed or not allowed to re-enter games after experiencing symptoms.

"But the league has to do more than change rules. It has to change the culture.

"Players have to stop believing that it's more important to be able to finish a game at the age of 25 than it is to be able to finish a crossword puzzle at the age of 45. An element of self-preservation must be accepted in the most macho of sports.

"The Duerson lawsuit underscores that football cannot continue to thrive with a mentality about head injuries that took root in the leather helmet era."

It was only last month that Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher said on HBO's Real Sports he would lie about a concussion to stay in a game. That's the type of culture that's being challenged here, and Urlacher isn't the only player who thinks that way.

Baby steps.