While most fans of pro football were preoccupied with the question of whether there would be a full season in 2011, or any season at all, another NFL-related story broke this week.
On Tuesday, a group of 75 retired NFL players filed a lawsuit charging the league with misrepresenting the consequences of the concussions players have regularly suffered while at work. Specifically, the 75 players cite the studies published by the league’s committee on concussions. The committee was formed almost 20 years ago, and until 2010, the doctors and others associated with it maintained that there was no evidence that those concussions had long-term effects.
Last year, for the first time, the NFL began warning players about the consequences of multiple concussions. New rules were instituted to insure that players who have suffered concussions are not rushed back on to the field before their brains have recovered. But the players filing this week’s lawsuit, many of whom retired before 1994, maintain that throughout their careers they were improperly diagnosed by medical personal employed by the teams. As recently as 2007, the NFL was distributing to players a pamphlet debunking the connection between concussions and problems with brain function after the players had retired.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello responded to the charge that the league had “acted willfully, wantonly, egregiously, with reckless abandon and a high degree of moral culpability” toward its employees by saying the NFL “will vigorously contest any claims of this kind.”
Throughout the months of the lockout, there has been much discussion about what compensation retired players who’ve suffered from various physical, mental, and psychological problems might get as a result of a settlement between the league and the current players. At the very least, the law suit filed on Tuesday will pump up the volume on that aspect of the discussion of the relationship between the league and the players. At most, it may change the way we all come to understand the responsibility of employer to employee when the workplace is a field of play.