Retired football players have died young at an alarming rate and each death repeats the question: Exactly how culpable is the NFL?
Scientific research on the longterm effects of sports-related brain trauma picked up steam in the 1970s, but mainly focused on boxing. It wasn't until a Pennsylvania doctor named Bennet Omalu analyzed the brain of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Mike Webster, who had died of a drug overdose, and discovered the existence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE, a relative of dementia) that the NFL's concussion protocols began receiving serious scrutiny.
In the 1960s, according to the suit, the NFL "learned that the American National Standards Institute had developed a standard applicable to football helmets to minimize the risk of head injury," but the league did not adopt a policy requiring these standards.
The complaint further alleges that the NFL ignored studies in the '60s and '70s that revealed "the increased risk of concussions, head trauma and brain injury to players as a direct result of the tackling techniques that were then in vogue in the NFL.... Despite this knowledge, until at least 2010, the NFL continued to deny any connection or correlation between players suffering concussions and long-term brain injury or illness."
In response to the lawsuits, Brian Karp, an outside counsel for the NFL, told the New York Times:
"The NFL has long made player safety a priority and continues to take steps to protect players and to advance the science and medical understanding of the management and treatment of concussions. The NFL has never misled players with respect to the risks associated with playing football. Any suggestion to the contrary has no merit."
Whitley, who payed for the Chargers, Panthers, and Raiders, suffered concussions that were "improperly diagnosed and treated." He "returned to play before it was medically appropriate." Through a guardian, Whitley's children, both minors, are seeking damages.
The suit lists off the many CTE symptoms Whitley showed: "headaches, severe migraine headaches, loss of memory, memory lapses and deficiency, sleeping problems, cervical spine arthritis, dizziness, impulse control problems, suicidal thoughts, depression, bi-polar mood symptoms, anxiety and panic disorder, extreme fatigue and apathy, blurred vision, slurred speech, extreme sensitivity to light and/or irritability."
Hat tip to Courthouse News Service.