Last off-season it was the lockout. This off-season it’s the concussion lawsuit brought on by over 1,500 former NFL players. The question is, should former NFL players be allowed to sue the NFL over health issues?
It’s a broad question and the debate is actually much wider. Player safety concerns are at an all time high right now. Fans hate the protections given to NFL QB’s, defenseless WR’s, punters, kickers, kick-returners, offensive lineman, defensive lineman, and so on. Yet here we are. Former players are claiming that the NFL hid safety reports and concussion syndrome testing results. They claim the NFL is responsible for withholding that information from the players in order to keep the players on the field.
At the same time however, or on the other side of that coin, the players don’t exactly agree with the new safety precautions given to them by the NFL. In fact, many NFL defensive players have vocally expressed their opposition to the rules protecting QB’s and WR’s specifically. James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers routinely says he will not change the way he plays and instead will take the fines that come with aggressive play. Aggressive play that typically leads to helmet to helmet contact and thus concussions.
Harrison isn’t alone in his assertion that the rules of the NFL make it impossible to play at a high level and other players contend that if they can’t play at a higher level than that affects their contracts. In other words, at some point it all comes down to money.
Last week former NFL QB Kurt Warner made headlines when he said he didn’t want his kids to play the game, then backtracked a bit, before clarifying his stance on the inherent danger of the game. Osi Umenyora of the NY Giants today agreed with Warner that he too is skeptical of encouraging his kids to play but wouldn’t stop them if they wanted. He went so far as to say that he will likely be wheelchair bound by the time he is 45 but won’t stop playing.
The death of Junior Seau last week has also had repercussions around this concussion syndrome landscape. Some point to his suicide and depression as evidence that he suffered from CTE’s while others say there is no way of knowing if that in fact played a role in his death. The fact that Seau is such a national figure in the sport brings more of this to the general fan.
Currently there is nothing stopping more former players to join in on this lawsuit or others to simply file their own lawsuits in other areas of the country. Yet not one of the incoming draftees from last April’s draft has announced he will no longer player football out of health concerns. That leads me to the question of who is responsible for the health and life of players once they leave the game of football?
Many say that the NFL simply doesn’t do enough for former players and that is more or less a “thank you, good-bye” type of exit. Others contend that it should be the responsibility of the players association to continue covering the medical and health issues of the players since it is the NFLPA who directly decides what benefits those former players receive from the NFL in each CBA ratification.
None of this matters for anything right now of course as the lawsuit will continue to grow in names and unfortunately national attention. Is this a matter of players having a valid right to sue their former employer over unhealthy working conditions or is this simply a matter of players taking advantage of their former employers wealth?
Consider if you had worked at a factory and after you retired developed cancer for long term exposure to your working environment. If you had known there were risks associated with your job, and you chose to continue doing it, do you have the right to sue? It’s very hard for me to believe that none of these 1,500 plus ex-football players didn’t realize that taking hits to the head that left them dizzy and “out of it” wouldn’t have long term consequences.
On the other side of that coin, and trust me in this case there a lot of different coins, if the NFL is found to have suppressed reports regarding long term health issues from concussions and then portrayed the opposite to the players, then yes there should be liability. It would be the same if you were told by that factory that the environment in which you worked was not a health risk even though they possessed evidence to support the opposite.
I suppose for the NFL it would be a matter of how much evidence they had and how much they suppressed. If the reports dictated nothing new than what was already considered standard knowledge then it’s not relative to the case. The one question that needs to be answered and won’t be is this. If the players knew the inherent dangers, and we all have to assume that they did, then are they not just as responsible for continuing that line of work? If you were told that your job could cause cancer but the pay was really good would you have quit? Not likely.
In the end, the NFL has tried to implement safety regulations to protect the players from both head injuries as well as other injuries suffered in games and practices. Yet here we are only a few months removed from one of the biggest NFL scandals ever. Bounty-Gate. A program run by coaches and fully endorsed by players. Should that type of behavior be allowed into the courts to back up claims that the NFL really isn’t fully responsible for the health of former players?
This subject, so far, has no clearly responsible parties on either side. It’s likely not all the fault of the NFL nor the players. Yet one side is going to win and the other is going to lose and lose big. What is your opinion on this?
Oh, and to try and keep at least a small line of this Dolphins related, the Phins released RB Richard Medlin this morning.