NFL Concussion Settlement:
$765 Million to Suppress the Truth About Brain Injuries

September 15, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


On August 30, 4,500 current and former professional football players settled their lawsuit against the NFL (National Football League) for the brain injuries suffered by the players while they were playing football. The $765 million settlement is to be used to pay the families of those players who are dead, for those players who are currently injured, for the players’ medical costs, and for the players’ attorney fees. This settlement was called a “win for the players” by a few newspapers, television and radio sports columnists, and sports bloggers. A few more called it a “win-win for both the players and the NFL.” Many more called it “a win for the NFL.”

1998, Carolina Panthers' Fred Lane loses his helmet in a hard tackle. Photo: AP

This is not about who “won.” It is about the continuation of concussions, brain damage, and ultimately, the early death of many of those who play football during early childhood, in high school and college, and in the professional leagues. This is about the criminal action of the NFL, which will not give the players, their families, or their physicians access to the players’ own medical records while they played in the NFL. It is about the criminal negligence of the NFL, which has spent millions of dollars researching brain damage in their players, in preventing the release of that research, which could help the players and their families at all levels of the game to know the truth about the brain damage that occurred while playing football. This is about the horrors of capitalism, where everything has a cash value, and for the NFL that means paying $765 million to suppress the truth about brain injuries while playing football.

Football players who receive multiple concussions are ending up with a brain disease called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).1 Doctors are currently unable to diagnose this disease in living people. Only after the player is dead and an autopsy has been done on the brain, can it be determined that the person had CTE. The ultimate medical condition for CTE in living people is a severe form of dementia (like Alzheimer’s disease). There are indications there are links between CTE and a disease similar to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)2 that attacks motor nerve cells in the brain and muscles. The Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (BU CSTE) found that 34 of the 35 brains of former NFL players donated to the center have CTE.

Life after pro football has been more than just a horror for those with CTE. In 2002, Mike Webster, age 50, died of a heart attack. In his final years he exhibited severe memory loss and dementia. He would put Super Glue on his teeth and Tasered himself to relieve his pain.3 He was the first NFL player to be diagnosed with CTE. In 2004, Justin Strzelczyk, age 36, drove his car at 90 mph, head-on, into a tractor-trailer. Examination of his brain found CTE. In 2005, Terry Long, age 45, committed suicide by drinking antifreeze. He was found to have CTE, and the medical examiner ruled brain trauma a contributing factor in his death. In 2006, Andre Waters, 44 years old, shot himself in the head. It was discovered he had the brain tissue of an 85-year-old man. In 2009, Chris Henry, only 26 years old, died after either falling or jumping from a moving truck. He was later diagnosed with CTE. In 2011, Dave Deurson, age 40, texted his family that he wanted his brain sent to the Boston University School of Medicine and then shot himself in the chest. The BU School of Medicine found Deurson had CTE.4 In 2012, Junior Seau, 43 years old, shot himself in the chest so his brain could be left whole. The National Institutes of Health found that his brain had CTE.5

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Despite the fact that CTE was not discovered in football players until 2002, indications are that the NFL knew of the severe dangers of concussions and head trauma as early as 1982. Keith Olbermann, commenting on the concussion settlement on his ESPN show on August 29, recounted the 1982 players’ strike against the NFL when he covered the negotiations between the players and the league. With tears swelling in his eyes, Olbermann told the story of Doug Kotar, who was found to have an inoperable cancerous brain tumor during the strike. Kotar was known as a player who would “lead with his head,” a practice of diving head-long at opposing players in order to knock them down. It was clear to the players that Kotar’s tumor was most likely the result of his type of play, which would jar his brain upon contact. The NFL denied that Kotar had brain injuries due to playing football and would not pay for his medical bills. Olbermann talked to two players after one negotiation session ended abruptly when a player lunged across the table at an NFL negotiator. That player, who had a law degree, told Olbermann that the players had asked the owners for Kotar’s medical records. The NFL refused and told the players, “Why would we let you see your medical records. You guys are too stupid to know what this means.” The player told Olbermann, “That’s when I wanted to kill that guy because of Doug Kotar.”

It is criminal that an employer will not give its employees their medical records. And now with this settlement, the NFL will continue to keep the players’ medical records from the light of day and will continue to deny that it is withholding life and death information regarding the players’ injuries. What kind of a society is this where people are not allowed access to their own medical records, and information that could help treat those injuries is withheld from them? It’s a society that needs to be swept away.

Further, this settlement only includes funds for those NFL players who have either retired or are playing right now; and the $765 million, which is to be paid out in increments of half in the next three years and the remainder over the next 17 years, is a pittance compared to the $9.2 billion in revenue the league took in last year.

The NFL is the richest sports league in the world with billions of dollars brought into its coffers through lucrative contracts with four of the biggest TV networks. Despite the fact that the NFL reaps enormous profits, it has been granted “non profit, tax exempt” status by the U.S. government! We’re not kidding.

The NFL is also the most popular league in this country, and it, as well as college football, boxing, and hockey, contribute in a large part to the culture of violence in this and other countries. ESPN, the premiere sports network, shows highlights of the “hardest (football) hits,” where one player throws his body at another player. ESPN continues to show the video of Jadeveon Clowney of the University of South Carolina violently knocking backward Vincent Smith of the University of Michigan in the January 1, 2013 Outback Bowl. The video shows Smith’s helmet being ripped off his head by the force of the violent contact and landing five yards from the point of impact. This video has had over 6 million viewers on YouTube. If you Google “football’s hardest hits,” you get 1.5 million links, with the top ones being YouTube videos, each having hundreds of thousands of viewers. One of those videos is actually titled, “Jadeveon Clowney Blxxs Up Michigan...!”

On October 8 and 15, PBS is going to air Frontline’s two-part investigation: “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis.” This show is being touted by Frontline as “the hidden story of the NFL and brain injuries, where “thousands of former players and a host of scientists claim the league has covered up how football inflicted long-term brain injuries on many players. What did the NFL know, and when did they know it?”6 Revolution does not know what will be revealed in this show. However, we will be watching it and encourage others to do so too.

Originally, ESPN was to partner and collaborate with Frontline on this show, but ESPN pulled out of it one week after the NFL, which airs some of its games on ESPN, complained to ESPN about the show, which depicts “the league turning a blind eye to evidence that players were sustaining brain trauma on the field that could lead to profound, long-term cognitive disability.”7

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Pro and college football Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett, who has a severe mental disability due to lack of oxygen to part of his brain and who was one of those who were pressured to play with concussions and other injuries, when asked if this settlement will pay for his medical bills texted, “NO, it wont.” “If I get some money out of this, $100,000 or $200,000, what is that going to do for my medical bills? What is that going to do for my quality of life?”8

Further this settlement does not include future NFL players, let alone youth playing Pop Warner football or high school and college football players. The serious medical risk to young kids playing football, who Dr. Robert Cantu, co-director of BU CSTE, describes as “bobble-head dolls with big heads and weak necks,” where any kind of a blow could shake a young player’s head more violently than it does with a fully-formed adult. Cantu says that youth should not be playing football, hockey, and soccer while they are under the age of 14.9

Revolution first wrote about football and CTE before the Super Bowl in 2009. This lightly edited quote from that correspondence holds true today:

We need to put a stop to these athletes being used by the NFL to add value to their product and then ending up as a vegetable or even worse. We should demand that the NFL (and all levels of football) focus on the health of these athletes and that they own up to and put a stop to the head injuries that cause this horrendous CTE disease that is resulting in the death of football players. Players at risk for CTE should be allowed to retire early with pay. The NFL should be demanded to give these players their own medical records and turn over all research the league has done on players’ injuries. However, it is ultimately going to take revolution and getting rid of capitalism-imperialism in order to fully put an end to the business of sports that treats athletes as commodities and chews them up and spits them out. Only when we get to socialism will we be capable of transforming athletics and sport into a game and not a business where the product takes precedent over athletes’ health.10

1. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head. CTE has been known to affect boxers since the 1920s. However, recent reports have been published that neuropathologically confirmed CTE in retired professional football players and other athletes who have a history of repetitive brain trauma. This trauma triggers progressive degeneration of the brain tissue, including the build-up of an abnormal protein called tau. These changes in the brain can begin months, years, or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of active athletic involvement. The brain degeneration is associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and, eventually, progressive dementia. (Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy) [back]

2. ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, where a patient becomes totally paralyzed in the disease’s later stages and then dies. Lou Gehrig was a Hall of Fame baseball player who had ALS. While playing baseball, he was knocked unconscious four times, due to getting hit by a ball in the head or by fighting. In all cases, he played the next day. He is well-known as the “Iron Horse” because he played 2,130 consecutive games. Baseball players did not wear helmets when Lou Gehrig was playing. He also played football at Columbia University. There are differences in the medical community about whether Gehrig’s head trauma while playing sports resulted in his getting ALS, as his medical records have not been released by the Mayo Clinic. [back]

3. Keith Olbermann on ESPN, August 31, 2013 [back]

4. Keith Olbermann on ESPN, August 31, 2013 [back]

5. All others in this paragraph attributed to “A Timeline Of Concussion Science And NFL Denial,” Barry Petchesky, August 30, 2013, [back]

6. [back]

7. “Did The NFL Put Pressure On ESPN To Divorce Frontline?” Richard Deitsch, [back]

8. “Cowboys great Tony Dorsett concerned that NFL concussion lawsuit settlement amount ‘not nearly enough,’” Brad Townsend, Dallas Morning News, August 30, 2013. [back]

9. Concussions and Our Kids, Robert Cantu and Mark Hyman, Houghton Mifflin Harcort, 2013. [back]

10. “NFL Capitalist ConcussionsRevolution #155, February 8, 2009. [back]

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