The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 23, 2014

Our View: Players also responsible for concussions

Why It Matters: A good number of NFL players appear to regard concussions as merely short-term injuries and part of the game.

The Mankato Free Press

---- — The NFL would dearly love the concussion issue to go away. It won’t — pro football is based on its participants repeatedly colliding with the force of an auto accident. The league can write new rules about where players can hit each other, but it can’t write new rules for physics.

No helmet is going to keep the human brain from colliding with its casing under such conditions, and that’s the source of concussions.

One curious aspect of the concussion issue has been the amount of player resistance to the rule changes imposed by the league.

The rules, for example, require that a player suspected of having been concussed be pulled from play. This decision is not left to the player or his coaches, but to the medical staff.

In a league in which player contracts are not binding on the team, that rule can threaten a player’s livelihood. In a culture that honors playing through injury and pain, that rule can threaten a player’s sense of honor.

It’s no real surprise, then, that in at least one instance this year a player, diagnosed with a concussion, managed to retrieve his helmet and return to the field for a play. (He was then pulled again.)

Another area of resistance has come to the penalties and fines for hits to the head. Defensive players grumble about the restrictions, meant as much for their safety as for the opponents’. Some defensive players have responded by going for the opponent’s legs when tackling; some offensive players, seeing a threat to their knees and mistakenly viewing concussions as a short-term injury, have said they’d rather be hit in the head.

Concussions, of course, are not merely short-term injuries. Their repercussions can reverberate for decades. Many of the thousands of former players involved in a major class-action federal court case against the league are essentially incapacitated by repeated brain trauma.

The proposed settlement of that lawsuit, announced last August just as the season was about to begin, was at least temporarily rejected last week by federal judge Anita Brody, who voiced concern that the $765 million would not be sufficient. She wants more details on the math.

The lawyers involved in the settlement appear to believe they can satisfy the judge. Until they do, the suit will continue to shadow the league, just as the effects of repeated brain injury shadow the players.

The NFL has been dubbed the “league of denial” for its years of scoffing at the concussion issue. Today’s players, chafing at the changes intended to at least minimize brain damage, are establishing that NFL management isn’t alone in that denial.

Other View on this topic

“I am primarily concerned that not all retired NFL football players who ultimately receive a qualifying diagnosis or their (families) ... will be paid.

“Even if only 10 percent of retired NFL football players eventually receive a qualifying diagnosis, it is difficult to see how the Monetary Award Fund would have the funds available over its lifespan to pay all claimants at these significant award levels.

Plaintiffs allege that their economists conducted analyses to ensure that there would be sufficient funding to provide benefits to all eligible Class Members given the size of the Settlement Class and projected incidence rates, and Plaintiffs’ counsel “believe” that the aggregate sum is sufficient to compensate all Retired NFL Football Players who may receive Qualifying Diagnoses.

Unfortunately, no such analyses were provided to me in support of the Plaintiffs’ Motion. In the absence of additional supporting evidence, I have concerns about the fairness, reasonableness, and adequacy of the Settlement.”

U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody, who denied preliminary approval of the NFL concussion settlement plan