A federal judge will hear arguments today from lawyers seeking to learn what National Football League officials knew about the prevalence of head injuries in the sport and when they knew it.
The attorneys represent about 4,200 retired NFL players who are suing the league. They allege the short- and long-term dangers of repeated head injuries were known to the league but ignored. Concussions, football players have said, were treated as simply a part of the game despite the lasting impact they can have.
A Jurisdictional Question
The arguments today are being heard in a Philadelphia federal courtroom. The stakes are high. A judge will decide if the 4,200 cases belong before the courts or whether, due to collective bargaining agreements, they should instead be settled in arbitration.
If the cases remain in court, the players’ attorneys would have access to NFL information through the discovery process. They allege the league was aware of the extent of dangers and actively tried to hide them from players.
“The NFL failed to live up to its responsibility: it negligently heightened players’ exposure to repeated head trauma and fraudulently concealed the chronic brain injuries that resulted,” they wrote in a legal brief, the Associated Press reported.
The NFL, meanwhile, has insisted player safety has always been the highest priority and that they relied on the best available science at all times.
Both sides are represented by politically connected, high-profile attorneys. Paul Clement, who represents the NFL, is a former solicitor general under President George W. Bush who argued the administration’s positions to the U.S. Supreme Court. The lead attorney for the players is David Frederick, who has argued pharmaceutical and other cases to the Supreme Court and is an ally of President Barack Obama, according to the AP.
Dangers Now Well-Known
Chronic head injuries can cause a condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. This can lead to depression, aggression, serious cognitive impairment and dementia. A 2012 study examined the donated brains of 85 people who suffered head trauma in football, hockey, boxing or service in combat. Sixty-eight of them — 4 out of every 5 — showed signs of CTE.
Athletes and commentators have wondered about the possible links between repeated head trauma and a slew of recent football tragedies, including the suicide of Junior Seau and the murder-suicide carried out by Jovan Belcher.
If the NFL once turned a blind eye to head injuries, few could accuse them of doing so now. The league recently teamed up with General Electric on a $60 million project to develop new imaging technology to better understand concussions. Money for future research is also including in the NFL’s bargaining agreement with the union representing its players.
We Advocate for Head Injury Victims
The Brain Injury Law Center is committed to representing people who have suffered debilitating head injuries. We support efforts to better understand the nature of these traumas. Contact us if you have suffered a serious brain injury due to another’s negligence.