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Jim Lewis
Jim Lewis
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Do NFL Players Understand the Risks of the Game?

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Just before Christmas 2011, four more former NFL players filed lawsuits against the National Football League, claiming that brain injuries sustained while they were playing have left them with serious medical problems. This latest lawsuit adds to several similar suits involving more than 100 players that have already been filed across the country.

As reported by ESPN, the newest case was brought by Jamal Lewis (2000-2009, Ravens and Browns), Dorsey Levens (1994-2004, Packers, Giants, and Eagles), Fulton Kuykendall (1975-1985, Falcons and 49ers) and Ryan Stewart (1996-2000, Lions). The crux of their case, as with the others that have already been filed, is that the NFL has long known about the serious risk of concussion and long-term medical problems that the sport poses but did very little to warn players about those risks or to minimize them. In fact, the lawsuits allege that the NFL went further than simply not warning. According to the former players, the league pressured players who suffered concussions to return to the field during the very game in which their brain injuries occurred, taught players to hit with their heads and improperly treated concussions.

This latest lawsuit claims that as early as the 1920s, the NFL was aware of potential for concussions to cause long-term harm such as memory loss, headaches and sleeplessness. Yet, according to the court documents, it wasn’t until June of 2010 that the NFL went public with information about health threats and warned players and teams about the risks.

While the NFL is, of course, denying that it mislead players about the safety of profesional football, the lawsuits do cause us to wonder if the players would have committed to NFL careers had they known the full risks. Or, even had the players still chosen to play, what about the sport and contract negotiation might have been different — for example, better salaries, more health insurance, better postretirement care, contracts that protect injured players more.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but If the NFL actually was concealing information about concussion dangers, then players didn’t really know what they were signing up for when they walked onto the field.

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.