A few days ago, Art Monk, the Hall of Fame wide receiver who played 14 seasons for the Washington Redskins, filed suit against the National Football League and helmet manufacturer Riddell, Inc., alleging short term memory loss, headaches and speech difficulties stemming from multiple concussions he sustained during his career.
Monk is the lead plaintiff in an 82-page lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging that the NFL failed to protect players against long-term brain injury risks associated with football-related concussions.
Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008, Monk is one of 63 plaintiffs in the suit. A couple of days before Monk filed, 198 other players filed suit in the same court making claims similar to Monk’s.
With those cases recorded, here’s the up-to-date tally: More than 2,000 former NFL players have filed 75 separate lawsuits against the NFL and Riddell Inc. None of these suits will reach the courts this week or next month or even next year. But when they do — and if things go badly for the NFL — the financial damage could wipe out the league.
At least that’s the opinion of Gregg Doyel, a national columnist for CBSSports.com, who argues that if each settlement is worth $1 million, the 2,000 players who have filed suit would win $2 billion. If that happens, Doyel argues, the NFL is finished because that would open the floodgates for more suits (the NFL is a $9 billion industry).
“I realize I’m describing the indescribable, but I’m not imagining the unimaginable,” Doyel wrote. “It’s pretty damn easy to see how bad this could be, because while the NFL can afford bad publicity and a tough union and the occasional suicide by a beloved former star, what it can’t afford is the millions — hundreds of millions, easy — it would lose should its former players start winning these lawsuits.
“With more lawsuits filed each week. And there’s a lot more retired players out there, watching these lawsuits. Waiting. With an attorney on speed dial. I promise you that. This is the NFL’s Big Tobacco moment, only worse, because people aren’t literally addicted to football like they’re addicted to smoking — and because the NFL doesn’t generate billions in tax revenues. Financially speaking, this country needs the tobacco industry. We love football, but we don’t need it like we need tobacco.”
When the courts begin hearing these cases, the NFL will argue that neither it nor Riddell should be held responsible for thousands of former players breaking down, mentally or physically, and that even if they are breaking down the players knew the risks of playing professional football and elected to take them.
The players will counter that they didn’t know the risks of memory loss and dementia and that the NFL failed to warn them of the health hazards they faced once their careers came to an end.
Not everyone believes that the NFL is in the kind of jeopardy Doyel describes. But some do. Last week, Baltimore Ravens defensive back Bernard Pollard told SportsRadio 610 in Houston, “In another 20 or 30 years, I dont even think football will be in existence anymore.”
When research into the effects of sports-related brain trauma began in 1970s, it focused primarily on boxing. It wasn’t until a Pennsylvania doctor named Bennet Omalu analyzed the brain of Hall-of-Fame offensive lineman Mike Webster (Pittsburgh Steelers), who died in 2002 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.
However, the NFL largely ignored Omalu’s findings until Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry was diagnosed with CTE shortly after his death in 2009. Since then, lawsuits against the NFL have come non-stop, begging this question: