Thursday, January 24, 2013

Suing the NFL, Who's Next?

Yesterday it was announced that the family of Junior Seau has filed suit against the NFL claiming that they are partly responsible for his death from suicide.  Examination of his brain found that he suffered from CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) which means that he had significant brain damage.

Seau's family joins more than 3500 former NFL players who have filed suit against the NFL for what it knew about brain damage, but covered up.  The NFL is making great strides on awareness about concussions, not nearly enough, but they do get credit for what the have done.  But just a few years ago, when there was clear evidence to the contrary, the NFL was claiming that there were not long-term consequences from concussions.

But, what makes Seau a different case from others is that he had never been diagnosed with a concussion, so this appears to be simply the case of the cumulative damage he sustained from hits to the head, or perhaps he was cuncussed and it was either missed or ignored.  I have written a lot about concussions and football in the past, but what doctors are finding is that it is really not the one time concussion that pose a problem but the cumulative effects of hit after hit that is potentially causing the problem.

What's worse is that CTE has been found in the brains of some teenagers and those in their early 20s who had played football.  Now this sample size is nowhere close enough to draw any definitive conclusions, but it certainly does raise significant concerns, which leads me to the question of this post.

I'm wondering why his family is limiting it to just the NFL?  I understand they have deeper pockets then most, but what about the University of Southern California where he played college football?  They are an institution of higher education with a medical school, so what did they know about head trauma and what did they cover up to the detriment of their athletes?  Or what about Oceanside High School?  Or what about Pop Warner football?

I think it is only a matter of time before Pop Warner Football, at the very least, gets named in a class action suit and maybe the NCAA.  This may happen with NFL players, but is more likely to come from families whose sons never played professional football but who sustained brain damage from just the routine hits that come from being a part of the game.

When this happens then I believe we will begin to see significant changes and movement because while the NFL can duck and cover for a long long time, because they have the resources to do so, I highly doubt that Pop Warner, or American Youth Football, will be able to sustain a long, drawn-out court battle.  And when the group where the majority of people actually play football, and which is also a lot less regulated and without doctors on the sidelines to pay attention to these things, then football culture will have to change to accommodate new realities, or it will disappear all together.

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