The National Football League has pledged more support to the study of head injuries. The professional sports organization says the goal of “Play Smart, Play Safe” is to explore ways to prevent, diagnose and treat head injuries that are known to result from playing this high-impact game. Part of the effort also involves hiring a medical doctor to serve as the league’s chief medical officer. The person hired will work with each team’s medical staff and create an independent scientific advisory board to weigh proposals for head injury research.
This $100 million pledge is in addition to the $100 million already pledged by the league for neuroscience and medical research. Just in the last 14 years, the agency has enacted a total of 42 rule changes in order to help protect players from head injuries. On top of that, the league has hired 29 additional medical professionals.
Some critics are wondering if this is simply another misguided attempt to assuage them following more than a decade of calls for change. Awareness of the scourge of head injuries in football really didn’t begin until 2002, when Pittsburgh Steelers’ center Mike Webster killed himself at age 50. It was at that point his physician diagnosed him with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) which is a type of degenerative, progressive disease that is caused by repeated trauma to the head.
Then a decade later, Dave Duerson, also 50 and a former Chicago Bears defensive back, killed himself by aiming a firearm at his chest, rather than at his head, so that his brain could be preserved for study. Researchers at Boston University diagnosed him postmortem with CTE. Then there was linebacker Junior Seau who did the exact same thing in 2013, and was also diagnosed post-mortem with CTE.
In 2012, more than 80 lawsuits were filed on behalf of some 2,000 players in the NFL who ultimately combined their claims into a single class-action against the NFL, claiming the league didn’t do enough to warn them about the risks of concussions and the link between concussions and brain injuries. The league also allegedly failed to protect players from serious danger. That case was settled three years later for $5 million per retired player for any serious medical conditions stemming from repeated head trauma. Over the course of the next 65 years, that could cost the league more than $1 billion. The NFL will also have to foot the bill for preemptive testing of head injury related conditions.
From there, we saw a ripple effect within the sport, particularly as it related to young players. There was Mike Keck, a former Missouri State University football player who had played since age 6. He had become so debilitated by football-related head trauma that by the time of his death at age 25, he’d lost the ability to work and had become totally dependent on his wife. His brain was sent to researchers in Boston, where there again, the CTE diagnosis was made – and it was even worse than what they had seen in 43-year-old Seau’s brain.
It wasn’t long after that youth football league Pop Warner settled a $2 million injury lawsuit brought by a former player (from ages 11 to 14) who killed himself at age 25 while suffering from CTE.
For children in particular, the concern is that they may be more vulnerable to head injuries because their brains are still developing and they have less myelin to protect their brain from damage. Plus, until they turn about 14, their heads are disproportionately large and their necks are weaker, making them more susceptible to rotational forces when they are hit in the head.
The hope is that the NFL’s most recent infusion of cash will ultimately help to make the game safer in the long run for those who are just starting to play.
If you have suffered a head injury, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (888) 751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
NFL announces $100 million concussion initiative, Sept. 14, 2016, By Susan Scutti, CNN
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