Eric Dickerson, the Pro Football Hall of Fame running back and better half of SMU's Pony Express, has joined the growing list of former NFL players suing the league for failing to protect athletes from permanent neurological damage stemming from brain trauma.
The lawsuit details a refrain that has become familiar: The NFL has known, or should have known, for years that that repeated concussions and lesser head trauma can have long-term health effects, and the league withheld or obfuscated this knowledge from players to protect itself. It was, in fact, the league's policy to put players back into games after suffering concussions, the suit claims.
A particular focus of the suit is the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee, which was formed by the NFL in 1994 to deal with concussion policy. Instead, Dickerson's lawsuit charges, "the MTBI has served as nothing but a roadblock to any real attempt to protect NFL players from concussions and resultant brain injury." Case in point: the MTBI's head for years, Dr. Elliott Pellman, was a rheumatologist and "puppet" of the NFL.
The bottom line is that the NFL has put its profits ahead of the health and well being of its players. Wanting their players on the field entertaining its fans, instead of on training tables, and in an attempt to protect a multi-billion dollar business, the NFL has purposefully side-stepped and obfuscated the concussion problem.
As a result, former players have suffered chronic neurological problems. Dickerson and the others list "various neurological conditions," including migraines, memory loss, depression, and hearing problems.
To underline the NFL's alleged negligence, the lawsuit tosses in use a cameo from Troy Aikman, making the diagnosis that NFL-friendly doctors lacked the will to make:
In an early season game in 2010, when Eagles middle linebacker Stewart Bradley staggered on to the field and stumbled over, it was clear that he had suffered a head injury. Troy Aikman, the former Cowboys quarterback who had suffered multiple concussions and was analyzing the game on television, commented that [i]t's hard to imagine him coming back into this game in light of what we just saw. But after about four minutes of real time, the Eagles sent Bradley back on the field.
I don't know how these lawsuits will -- or should -- play out. The analogy to Big Tobacco -- a greedy industry suppressing evidence that its product is killing millions -- doesn't quite hold. And these are grown men we're talking about, men who willingly chose to play football. They may not have known the definition of chronic traumatic encepalopathy, but they had to know that that throbbing they felt when they had a big hit couldn't be good.
At the same time, the NFL is a multi-billion dollar business that was clearly trying to protect its interests through obfuscation, if not deceit, and it could and should have done more to protect its players. It certainly would have helped if it had been more proactive at stamping out the macho ethos that treats a concussion like a hangnail, something to be played through, and it could have implemented tougher rules on concussions and hits to the head much earlier.
I know this for sure: My son is never playing football.