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Retired NFL Players File Class Action Lawsuit Against League, Claiming They Hid Brain Injury Links

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jun 7, 2012 7:30PM

A class action lawsuit was filed in Philadelphia Thursday that incorporates over 80 pending lawsuits from former NFL players and the families of deceased NFL players, claiming the league hid the links between concussion-related and other head trauma and permanent brain damage.

The lawsuit aims to hold the NFL and helmet maker Riddell responsible for the damage they sustained, which range from Alzheimer's disease and dementia to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a progressive degenerative disease found in individuals who have been subjected to multiple concussions and other forms of head injury most common among pro athletes involved in contact sports, particularly football and hockey players, and professional wrestlers.

Among the cases consolidated into the class action suit are two from former Chicago Bears. Former quarterback Jim McMahon is one of the former players who filed lawsuits and has taken his story of the memory loss he suffers from as a result of his playing career on the road. The family of former Chicago Bear and New York Giant Dave Duerson filed a lawsuit against the league and Riddell in February. Duerson, the 1987 NFL Man of the Year, committed suicide in February 2011. Mary Ann Easterling, widow of former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling, is another defendant. Ray Easterling shot himself in the head in April and Mary Ann Easterling said he suffered from depression and dementia. Most recently, former San Diego Chargers/New England Patriots linebacker Junior Seau was found dead with a gunshot wound to the chest.

The lawsuit claims the NFL of downplaying the links between the violence of the sport and its long-term ramifications, and of "mythologizing" the violence through its archive and video arm, NFL Films.

"The NFL, like the sport of boxing, was aware of the health risks associated with repetitive blows producing sub-concussive and concussive results and the fact that some members of the NFL player population were at significant risk of developing long-term brain damage and cognitive decline as a result," the complaint charges.

"Despite its knowledge and controlling role in governing player conduct on and off the field, the NFL turned a blind eye to the risk and failed to warn and/or impose safety regulations governing this well-recognized health and safety problem."

The league responded in a statement:

"The NFL has long made player safety a priority and continues to do so. Any allegation that the NFL sought to mislead players has no merit. It stands in contrast to the league's many actions to better protect players and advance the science and medical understanding of the management and treatment of concussions."

The NFL also pointed to health initiatives they've implemented as proof they care about the long-term health of their players such as the 88 Plan. Named after Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey, provides funding to treat dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and Lou Gehrig's Disease, and players who participate in the program don't need to show a link between their condition and their playing career in order to participate.

Former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka and other former players have been critical of the league's treatment of former players over the years. Ditka was one of the players behind Gridiron Greats, a nonprofit that provides medical and financial assistance to former players in need.