2,000 former players to sue NFL

Submitted by 1464 on June 7th, 2012 at 10:07 AM

Title says it all.  2,000 former NFL players are expected to file a class action lawsuit against the NFL, alleging that the NFL covered up information that their product caused head injuries.  This is the biggest class action lawsuit that players have brought against any pro sports league.





June 7th, 2012 at 10:30 AM ^

Yeah I know what you are coming from. It’s sad because this is very common senses thing we all should know this football is a violet sport. If you are halfback you know you going get beat the sh*& of you by the D-line, LB, etc….. (But I will be thinking I am tough halfback nothing is to going hurt me.) You are in tough Sh*&  


June 7th, 2012 at 11:56 AM ^

If people are terrible at assessing risk, and that negates the "players knew that football is dangerous" defense, why doesn't the same logic apply to the NFL? At that point you're basically saying "we're dumb and you're way smarter than us, so you owe us money"

The only wy this should succeed is if they can PROVE the NFL was sitting on a ton of specific info that they deliberately and systematically withheld from the players. That's a high hurdle.

The sad thing is that this suit is probably the result of a few lawyers seeing a fat payday from a rich target, and these lawyers are just being exploited again.


June 7th, 2012 at 10:31 AM ^

I believe the whole point is that the players didn't know the risks, and they are alleging that the NFL did. I think it's easy to look at the game now and say "of course all that stuff is bad," but it wasn't too long ago that players could get knocked unconscious on the field and then go back in a few plays later. I think you're overestimating the degree to which people understood the nature of football-related head injuries (especially ones that are not huge, head-rattling hits).

I don't know any more about this case than anyone else, but it doesn't seem unreasonable that the NFL figured out how bad these head injuries were and didn't do anything about it until it creeped into the public consciousness. Or it could just as likely be the case that retired players want/need money because they're broke and/or the union doesn't provide enough medical coverage for them. This is why these things play out in court.

MI Expat NY

June 7th, 2012 at 10:53 AM ^

You don't think the NFL would be interested in hiding information that indicates that repetitive brain trauma caused by football leads to what is essentially early onset alzheimer's and all the consequences therein?  It's bad business when your product causes that kind of damage, and hiding it would be in their interest.

I'm not sayint that's what happened, or concussions and sub-concussive trauam associated with football is a direct cause of some of the recent former player tragedies we've seen, just saying that the NFL would certainly have an incentive to hide knowledge of such a connection.


June 7th, 2012 at 11:03 AM ^

Just to clarify, I'm not saying the players are right or that the NFL is going to or should lose. Just saying that there is a logic to the case that merits letting it play out.

But to answer your question, there are a few reasons I can think of as to why the league wouldn't acknowledge increased risk they knew about. Think about all the people who very loudly complain about how the NFL is ruining the game or watering it down or how it's barely football any more every time a rule is changed. Think about the increased subjectivity in officiating when it comes to penalizing helmet-to-helmet hits. Plus, it really makes the game look bad when the governoring body announces that the players we love watching are probably going to be suffering from memory loss, dementia, depression, loss of motor control, and generally degrade into the severely elderly by the time they hit their 50s.

Now, there's a lot of research that is pouring out right now about how things like acculumated subconcussive hits affect the brain long-term, and a lot of that research is very preliminary. Plus, the game has really sped up and gotten much more super-humanly athletic in recent years; I wouldn't be surprised if the NFL is scrambling to play catch-up on understanding health issues. But the former players seem to think otherwise. I have no idea who's right.


June 7th, 2012 at 11:53 AM ^

What do they have to gain by downplaying the risks of employment to the employees?  Their whole business model depends on having the top-flight talent out on the field, not on the sideline.  People don't pay to see the scrubs.  The owners pressure the coaches to get injured players back on the field, the coaches know their jobs depend on it, and the league is run by the owners.  The incentives to press the employees back into working is through the roof, particularly when in this case, much of the damage is allegedly long-term.  It's like saying "what does a coal mine operator have to gain by downplaying health risks to the miners?"  Uh, besides everything, you mean?

Blue in Yarmouth

June 7th, 2012 at 12:38 PM ^

The point I am getting at is if owners knew, they would have nothing to gain by hiding it and everything to gain from finding ways to prevent it (which is what they are doing now). Also, you don't think the fact that they get paid in the millions of dollars to take part in this sport would more than offset the fact that the sport COULD cause some long lasting effects? Now who isn't being serious.

Look at fire fighters. They face far more serious risks than football players and get paid far less, yet continue to do their job. I just don't see the point of your post.

If you operated under the assumption that if the general public knew playing football could cause concussion and with that knowledge, the best players in that sport would quit playing I could see your point, but that would go against what we know of human behavior.

This is why I don't believe the NFL has anything to gain by hiding anything. It is in their interest to keep the best players healthy and on the field.  

MI Expat NY

June 7th, 2012 at 1:44 PM ^

What if there's no easy way to prevent it?  It seems like there might not be, especially if the theories on sub-concussive trauma being as bad or worse than actual concussions.   It's been proposed that basically on every play lineman are doing long term damage to their brains from colliding with opposing lineman.  How do you prevent it?  Even with much of the public now more aware of the risks, there isn't anything remotely close to a consensus on how to prevent concussions.  Without any answers, the NFL absolutely would hide the problem.  

The motivation for the NFL isn't just about keeping the best players playing, it's about stemming moral outrage.  If the masses know that by playing, all these players are dooming themselves to a very poor standard of living in their 50's, do they keep watching?  I don't know, but it's a risk the NFL would rather not face.  Additionally, if anyone in the NFL is taking the long view (I'd be surprised by this), they could be concerned about later generations not playing because those generations were prevented from playing by their parents, and never became the potential best players in the world they could have been.  

Ali G Bomaye

June 7th, 2012 at 10:45 AM ^

People always knew that you could get concussions playing football, and that concussions were bad.  But only in the last decade have researchers realized exactly how bad CTE is (such as that found in Andre Waters or Dave Duerson), or that such brain damage can result from repeated sub-concussive impacts.

However, that fact - that nobody knew how much brain risk football entails - works in the NFL's favor in this suit.  If the NFL couldn't have known how much risk the players were taking, how could it have disclosed such risk to the players?


June 7th, 2012 at 1:55 PM ^

Exactly.  It isn't like the NFL is in the business of doing concusion research and they suppressed their findings. 

Whatever the NFL could learn about various concusion studies, the players would have the same access to.  It is not possible that the NFL conspired to keep some big secret.



June 7th, 2012 at 11:12 AM ^

Exactly, I know that if I biff it on my motorcycle and wrap my body around a tree my chances are slim to none that I'm going to come out alive.  Its an implied risk that I accept because I love my motorcycle and riding. 

Again, if the NFL covered up evidence then they have a claim for that but to say they did not know/or should have been told that smacking your head on the ground 20 times a game is bad thats just ridiculous. 


June 7th, 2012 at 10:25 AM ^

Shouldn't the Players Union hold some responsibility too?  I mean, they represent these players and if they are truly watching out for their best interest, why didn't they alert their members?

I find this whole thing to be ridiculous.  Does someone really need to be warned that playing professional football is dangerous and can lead to long term health issues?  Give me a break. 



June 7th, 2012 at 12:06 PM ^

When really the union ought to be getting most of the grief since they're the ones they are the ones that are supposed to represent the players' interest. The NFL looks out for the NFL and the Players' Association looks out for the players. Or at least it's supposed to.


June 7th, 2012 at 10:27 AM ^

Not judging who's right or wrong without actual facts of the case.  I just keep thinking back a few months ago when Troy Aikman said the NFL may not keep the number one spot in sports much longer and all the analysts laughed at him.  If the players win this case, hold on to your hats NFL fans.

Kermits Blue Key

June 7th, 2012 at 10:42 AM ^

The NFL will always be number one because there are two huge, but separate interests; fans and gamblers. Some pure fans may lose interest if the physical level of football is diminished, but there will always be gambling viewers as long as someone is able to rush for a 4-yd td in their fantasy league. No other sport has the sheer betting draw as the NFL and that aspect has nothing to do with big hits.


June 7th, 2012 at 1:32 PM ^

They also used to be very popular due to gambling.  Now it has shifted to football.  Gambler's tastes seem to change periodically.  I know it's a different demographic, but take the elderly for example.  They used to hit the local bingos religiously.  Now the chic thing is to go on bus trips to the casinos that seem to be popping up everywhere.  Just because something is the top dog right now doesn't guarantee it will be five or ten years from now.

Kermits Blue Key

June 7th, 2012 at 6:06 PM ^

The NFL isn't popular due to gambling.  The NFL evolved from a great spectator sport to one that became addicting to gamble on.  People have always been able to bet on the outcomes of sports like boxing, horse racing, and even football.  However, with the invention of the internet and instant access to statistics, people can essentially bet on every single play via fantasy football.  How many fans of horse racing or boxing ever spent hours during the week evaluating players and  lineups for an upcoming match or race?  The NFL has created a whole new legion of gamblers that never even existed before and whose tastes won't shift.  They don't want to simply gamble, they want to gamble on whether or not Adrian Peterson rushes for 165 yds and 2 TDs.


June 8th, 2012 at 7:36 AM ^

I understand your point but I still think that popularity is cyclical.  Look at how popular fantasy baseball was when it started and now it's been mostly replaced by fantasy football.  I'm also not sure how much financial influence a legion of fantasy leagues would have to keep the NFL solvent if they have money problems.  It seems to me the gamblers would just move on to another sport the way they migrated to football. 

As far as horse racing goes, I used to work with a guy who would be in his early 70's that knew all the horses at the local tracks in Columbus and would go to the Little Brown Jug religiously.  He read the racing lines or whatever you call them and bet on races across the US all the time.  I think that horse racing was the NFL for a lot of people in his generation.

Picktown GoBlue

June 7th, 2012 at 10:31 AM ^

the pads and helmets they were putting on?  They couldn't pay for doctors to evaluate themselves periodically?  They couldn't put 2 and 2 together to realize that 250 pounds going full speed at 250 pounds might have some effect on one or both player?  Where is the "secret" information on this open playing field?  Were there secret death rays being spewed on the field from the luxury boxes?  Drugs in the Gatorade?  Can't see how they win this case, but I can see how they collect if the NFL rolls and settles to make the suit go away...

Ali G Bomaye

June 7th, 2012 at 10:50 AM ^

The NFL won't roll and settle, because that would open them up to similar suits from every player who has ever played.  The NFL will fight this tooth and nail.

WalMart is famous for fighting pretty much every liability suit brought against it, whether or not it makes sense from an immediate economic perspective.  They'll pay $50,000 in legal fees defending themselves against a suit that only asks for $10,000, with the reasoning that refusing to settle will help to dissuade future suits.  Ethical or not, it makes sense for the NFL to take a similar approach.


June 7th, 2012 at 10:37 AM ^

I can't wait for the day where you have to sign a waiver at a restaurant saying that they fairly warned you that your coffee may be hot.

EDIT:  I fully realize that this isn't a great comparison, I'm just commenting on the fact that this is the direction we are heading in an age where everyone is terrified of being sued for something that should have been common sense.

Ali G Bomaye

June 7th, 2012 at 10:54 AM ^

If you're referring to the McDonalds coffee case, it wasn't quite as frivolous as just a person spilling hot coffee on themselves and cashing in.  McDonalds intentionally kept their coffee dangerously hot so that it would stay fresh longer and save them money, even though they knew this was likely to result in injuries.  It was sort of a less deadly version of the famous Ford Pinto case.

A good summary is here.


June 7th, 2012 at 12:48 PM ^

If an employer is aware of a risk to its employees, and fails to notify the employee of those risks (or worse, actively conceals the risks from the employee), then the employer may be liable for the resulting injuries.

I'm not saying it's a slam dunk; the facts are murky at best. But it's based on a really sound legal theory.

One Inch Woody…

June 7th, 2012 at 10:54 AM ^

People need and want things to blame for erratic behavior and football is a great scapegoat. Brian posted something a while back that said that the per capita suicide rate among football players is actually much much lower than the general population. It is simply because football players are so high profile that it seems like there is so much suicide, which MAY result from depression, which MAY result from concussions, which MAY result from football. I mean, you're making three ludicrous leaps of faith. As a scientist, this type of irrational jumping-to-conclusions should be avoided.

Although there is a clear link of football to brain damage, brain damage to concussions, concussions to depression, and depression to suicide, it should also be noted that suicide is most often (the most general cases of suicide) not related to brain damage. If depression is the accepted trigger of suicide, then it is STILL irrational to say that brain damage was the cause of depression because the vast majority of cases of depression probably have nothing to do with brain damage. In other words, there is a high (> 90%) chance that these players who commit suicide could be depressed from other things, and not the brain damage. 

Finally - on the note of having my prospective children prospectively play football - there are hundreds of thousands of ex-peewee, ex-junior high, ex-high school, and ex-college football players that are 100% normal functioning members of society with no depression or problems. I don't see anything wrong with it until high school, but playing college ball would not be advisable.

Shave Off Them…

June 7th, 2012 at 11:21 AM ^


I'm beyond tired of hearing the logical fallacy that head injuries from CTE cause these events. A couple of poorly understood pathologic studies does not yet a medical breakthrough make. That's not to say there's nothing there; but let's at least be sensical in the conclusions we draw and not start with lawsuits and policy changes on correlations alone.


June 7th, 2012 at 10:59 AM ^

I wouldn't expect this suit to last very long.  The NFL has been handing out fines for head shots for a long time.  They make the players wear helmets and pads.  Point being, they have been trying to prevent head injuries for a long time.  The severe quality of life imapct that concussions have wasn't known until recently.  Even if it had been known, the players would have still played (obvious since nobody's quitting now).  There is no known way to prevent consussions, other than the numerous steps that the NFL has taken to penalize and fine players for headshots.  If anything, the people who should be getting sued are the ones who put bounties out on injuring players, especially since that was happening recently.


June 7th, 2012 at 12:22 PM ^

I guess my point is that even if the NFL had this kind of information (incredibly unlikely since I doubt that 2,000 former NFLers have heard about some secret studies and memos that the general public has not seen yet), it wouldn't have made any difference whatsoever either on the decision that the players make to play the game, or on the safety rules and equipment. 


June 7th, 2012 at 11:03 AM ^

There are no end of risks in life. Trying to eliminate all risks is a costly course of action, and it won't work.

  • You can get hurt on a bicycles, so be sure to wear helmets.
  • You can get hurt skate boarding and skating, so wear elbow and knee pads.
  • You can get hurt water skiing, so don't water ski.
  • You can get hurt on ladders, so explain the risks.
  • You can get hurt with hot coffee, so make sure people know it is hot.
  • You can get hurt with undercooked meat, so overcook it, and no raw meat.
  • You can get hurt with pesticides in fish, so don't eat fish.
  • You can get hurt with too much salt, so eliminate salt.
  • You can get hurt with unprotected sex, so wear a condom.
  • You can get hurt on farms, so no farmer's kids under 14 should drive tractors.

All the advice and regulation is well meant, and some of it is even good. But here are several problems.

  1. A sense you are safe if you use protection. This is one of the biggest problems in football, but it is a problem with almost all risks. Life is dangerous. Having seat belts and airbags does not mean that you are safe:  drive safely. Wearing a football helmet doesn't mean you won't get concussions:  don't lead with your helmet/head. No matter what is printed on the coffee cup or the cigarette box or the side of the ladder, you can still get hurt.
  2. Risk exhaustion. A certain segment of the population finally gives up. A friend who is a public health professor mentioned that they are seeing an alarming rebound in HIV statistics. Why? The high risk population is tired of trying to avoid all the risks.
  3. Idiocy. I have twin 11 year olds. No matter what they are told, sometimes, they still do idiot things. Some people never grow out of this stage.

I personally believe that both the NFL owners and the players are complicit in ignoring many of the risks inherent in football, and this suit is simply an attempt by many players to  get more of the pie. Another unpleasant reality is that better than 78% of former NFL players are broke within 3 years of retirement, and have nothing to show for their salaries while playing ball. What do broke, bankrupt former players have to lose in being part of a class action suit? Who knows, maybe the thinking is that a mere $20,000 or $50,000 or $100,000 would make a huge difference to someone who has virtually nothing.


June 7th, 2012 at 11:22 AM ^

I agree on the excessive protection of our society creating a distorted sense of safety.  My dad has railed about this for years.  The seat belt thing reminds me of something he told a class one time.  Instead of putting more safety features on cars, we should make them more dangerous.  Put nitroglycerine in the body panels and then people would drive more carefully.

Edit:  Now that I've written this, I realize this may not have been an original idea.  It actually sounds like something George Carlin might have said but my dad repeated.  Either way, the point's the same.


June 7th, 2012 at 11:26 AM ^

That's actually one of the bigger hurdles to cutting down on head injuries in the NFL, in my opinion. Players have a false sense of security because they're wearing helmets (which protect the skull and do almost nothing to protect the brain) and assume they can whack each other in the head without consequence.


June 7th, 2012 at 11:35 AM ^

I have no idea, but logically the league must not require players to wear the safest helmet. Players have a choice in the helmet that they wear and different players wear different things, so logically the league must not require they use the single most safe helmet, otherwise they'd all be wearing the same one.


June 7th, 2012 at 12:03 PM ^

but that's like saying people would have less sex if you simply made condoms less effective. Protection in the form of helmets, condoms, and even seatbelts aren't in place for the major blasts-- they also serve to protect from incedental contact as well.  In reality, only some people would hit less hard or with better form if their helmets seemed less safe-- and would probably not seem as effective in comparison to their competition.

Think about the benefits of football as well. While I am not so ignorant to claim that every athelete is a poor innercity kid willing to risk everything to improve their situation, it is very true that while the danger increases from playing football (more exposure to hits from bigger, faster people), the benefits also go up. If you take it as a given that most of us played HS football (I didn't), how many of you would have played for four more years just to get free education? How many would have played for six of seven more years if you knew you were getting ten, fifteen, or twenty million dollars in adiditon to the cashe that comes with being a former professional athelete? I am pretty sure that just about everyone would, though that might change as we learn more. Nevertheless, I can only feel so bad for former players who recieved so much benefit from their careers-- even though I admit that my pity goes up as you look further and further back into history and see players who didn't recieve the massive benefits players have been recieving over the past fifteen years (at least). 


June 7th, 2012 at 1:56 PM ^

Regarding your first point, I'm not saying that safety is a bad thing. I'm saying that a lot of people misunderstand what kind of safety a helmet provides. Helmets prevent skull fractures, primary, and only offer limited protection from things like concussions. So, to use your condom example, it's more like people assuming that because a woman takes birth control that you don't have to use a condom for protection from STDs. It's the false assumption that one form of safety carries over to another form of safety.

I think you're probably right, though, that a lot of players (regardless of SES background) wouldn't pass up the chance at a full ride scholarship or an opportunity to play in the NFL (although, Sweat from OSU did just that). But that's kind of besides the point of the legal case in question; that's counterfactual thinking that's not proveable one way or another.