More than 100 former professional football players, including former Atlanta Falcons Jamal Anderson, Chris Doleman, and O.J. Santiago, are adding their names a growing list of players suing the NFL. They join more than 1,500 other players who claim that the National Football League hid the dangers of concussions from them.
My thinking about this started when I read an article last week called ” What would the end of football look like?” It discussed what happens when insurance companies no longer provide policies for High School football.
Precollegiate football is already sustaining 90,000 or more concussions each year. If ex-players start winning judgments, insurance companies might cease to insure colleges and high schools against football-related lawsuits. Coaches, team physicians, and referees would become increasingly nervous about their financial exposure in our litigious society. If you are coaching a high school football team, or refereeing a game as a volunteer, it is sobering to think that you could be hit with a $2 million lawsuit at any point in time.
As it loses it access to young talent, as college football programs disappear, pro football begins to decline. Few people want to play a sport where traumatic brain injury can so easily happen.
I think this is not likely to happen at all but a few of these lawsuits and it could be in real trouble. But, like hockey, the violent nature of the game could become a hinderance in the future.
One of the interesting aspects of all this publicity is more and more football players are donating their brains to the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy because the disease can only be diagnosed post-mortem.
Thus we see this – Dave Duerson committed suicide last year by shooting himself in the chest. He was suffering from the disease. He was 50.
A year earlier, a 21-year old lineman for Penn State hanged himself. He had the disease.
Junior Seau shot himself in the chest.
Football players are not shooting themselves in the head – they are killing themselves in a way to preserve their brain for diagnosis. Without any other test for the disease, this is their only course.
Football players already die at a higher rate and a younger age than other athletes. Life expectancy for American men is over 77 years. For all NFL players, some studies suggest it is 55. For linemen it is 52.
A 1994 study of several thousand football players found that, while they have lower chances of dying from many sorts of things than the average male, they did have one little bit of a problem that stands out now.
Players who participated in 5 or more seasons had almost twice the chance of developing neurological disorders than expected. This was not statistically significant because of the few cases at the time – they were all diagnosed as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Interestingly, it appears that chronic traumatic encephalopathy can often be confused with ALS.
A lot of parents have to wonder about having their children play football. Here are some stats: at least one concussion occurs in every High School football game; there are 10 times as many concussion in football than in baseball; lacrosse is approaching the concussion levels of football; one-third of the players report two or more concussions a season.
I see many people moving their kids to lacrosse, but that will not stem the problem from concussions in children’s sports. What needs to be done is to really change the culture about the prevalence of concussions and what to do. There need to be clear standards to allow kids back into the game.
But even then, there will be lawsuits and it is entirely possible that insurance affects could change the games.