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Ex-players sue NFL over lack of concussion warnings

Published October 20, 2011 11:51 pm

NFL notes • Former players sue league over concussion issues.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

After congressional hearings, increased media attention and revised rules, the NFL's concussion saga has entered its next phase: litigation.

More than 125 former pro football players are suing the league — and, in most cases, helmet-maker Riddell — via at least five complaints brought in state or federal courts over the past few months and as recently as last week. They say the NFL should have done more to warn about the dangers of head injuries and should do more to help retired players.

"We've moved on from a debate about whether or not it's really a problem — it's clear it is — to the next question: What do we do about it?" said Richard Lewis, a lawyer representing players in a class-action suit filed in California state court.

There also are at least three personal-injury cases against the NFL pending in California, along with a case filed in U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania. They're believed to be the first examples of former players joining together to file concussion-related lawsuits against the NFL. Many players' wives also are plaintiffs.

"We have three goals. One is to make necessary changes so that others playing this game don't go the same way. The second goal is to set up a medical process so these people can have medical attention for this injury as long as they need it. And the third goal is to get compensation," said Thomas Girardi, who is representing several dozen former players in two of the personal-injury complaints. "Some of these people are unable to work in a work setting because of their inability to understand common concepts."

The NFL's stance, as explained by outside counsel Brad Karp in a telephone interview, essentially focuses on these ideas:

• players knew there were risks of injury when they decided to play football

• there was no misconduct or liability on the part of the NFL

• any such claims should be addressed via arbitration, as outlined in the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the players' union, not in court — an argument made in a filing by the league to shift cases from state to federal court.

"The NFL has long made player safety a priority. It is continuing to make player safety a priority. And the NFL is not legally responsible for the medical difficulties that some players now are facing," said Karp, whose law firm, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, has represented the league in various matters for 20 or so years.

"Head injuries, including concussions and the possible effects of concussions, have long been known risks of playing football," Karp added. "Players have known about the risks of playing football, they have chosen to play football notwithstanding those risks, and in so doing, have assumed those risks and all of their possible consequences."

The complaints filed in three of the cases are identical in some passages, particularly in supporting their contention that the "NFL fraudulently concealed the long-term effects of concussions." They say that while the NFL warned current players in a June 2010 poster put in locker rooms about "long-term risks associated with multiple concussions, including dementia," neither the league nor Riddell cautioned retired players.

Most of the players listed as plaintiffs are not household names, although former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon is included in the complaint filed in Pennsylvania.

Report: Detroit RB has brain tumor

ESPN reported Thursday that Lions backup running back Jerome Harrison has a brain tumor. The network based its report on two NFL sources it did not identify.

The Lions tried to trade Harrison to Philadelphia on Tuesday, but the deal was voided for unspecified reasons. The Lions listed Harrison as having an "illness" that held him out of Thursday's practice.

"It's a privacy issue and I'm not going to comment on it," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "He's back on our 53-man roster."

Harrison's agent, Mitch Frankel, did not return phone and email messages.

Detroit wanted to trade Harrison to Philadelphia for Ronnie Brown and a draft pick because it needs help in the backfield following starter Jahvid Best's third concussion last Sunday in a loss to San Francisco.

Dolphins buy tickets to avoid TV blackout

Tim Tebow's popularity hasn't been enough for the winless Miami Dolphins to sell out Sunday's game, so they've agreed to buy any remaining tickets to avert a television blackout in South Florida.

Those tickets will be given to season-ticket holders. The Dolphins also bought all unsold tickets for their most recent home game.

Tebow returns to Florida to make his first start of the season for the Denver Broncos. Since the decision to start him was announced last week, more than 10,000 tickets have been sold.

Dolphins attendance has declined with the franchise's recent fortunes, but Miami has avoided any blackouts since the start of the 2001 season.

Saints TE Graham held out of practice

Saints coach Sean Payton said tight end Jimmy Graham, who leads the team in receiving, missed Thursday's practice with a sore right ankle.

Graham has 39 catches for 620 yards and three touchdowns, and last week became only the second tight end to have four straight games in the same season with 100 yards or more receiving, matching the feat accomplished by Tony Gonzalez in 2000.

Graham practiced on Wednesday, but Payton says the tight end was having ankle soreness afterward and was given Thursday to rest.

Graham is in his second NFL season out of Miami, where he played power forward for the basketball team for four years before playing one season of college football.

The Saints host Indianapolis on Sunday night. —

NFL Week 7 schedule

Sunday

• Houston at Tennessee, 11 a.m.

• Washington at Carolina, 11 a.m., Ch. 13

• San Diego at New York Jets, 11 a.m.

• Seattle at Cleveland, 11 a.m.

• Denver at Miami, 11 a.m.

• Atlanta at Detroit, 11 a.m.

• Chicago vs. Tampa Bay (in London), 11 a.m.

• Kansas City at Oakland,2:05 p.m., Ch. 2

• Pittsburgh at Arizona, 2:05 p.m.

• St. Louis at Dallas, 2:15 p.m.

• Green Bay at Minnesota,2:15 p.m., Ch. 13

• Indianapolis at New Orleans, 6:20 p.m., Ch. 5

Open • Buffalo, Cincinnati, N.Y. Giants, New England, Philadelphia, San Francisco

Monday

• Baltimore at Jacksonville,6:30 p.m., ESPN