The NFL may be worried about bounties and salary cap penalties right now, but when those stories die down and the long offseason eventually begins, the bit story on everybody's plate will undoubtedly be the rapidly growing numbers of former NFL players who have banded together to file several lawsuits against the league, claiming that in their days, the NFL knew about the effects of concussions and did little to protect them.
The latest group, with former Washington Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien as its lead plaintiff, adds 126 plaintiffs to a group that already had 854 ex-players in several different lawsuits filed from August of 2011 through early March. According to nflconcussionlitigation.com, as many as 51 different suits have been filed in several different states, including five wrongful death lawsuits.
According to the suit led by Rypien, the ex-quarterback now "suffers from various neurological conditions and symptoms related to the multiple head traumas." Rypien was the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XXVI, when the Redskins beat the Buffalo Bills, 37-24. He played from 1998 through 2001 and finished his career with 1,466 completions in 2,613 attempts for 18,473 yards, 115 touchdowns, and 88 interceptions.
Two notable high draft picks from the 1990s, quarterback Todd Marinovich (24th overall in 1991) and offensive lineman Tony Mandarich (second overall in 1989), are also named in Rypien's suit.
"Often times a class action lawsuit is about a money grab. and that's not what this is about," Mandarich told Jim Weber of LostLettermen.com. "If (the NFL) didn't know that there were greater risks, then I wouldn't be part of [the lawsuit]."
The legal actions come from all over, but the premise is generally the same -- long before the NFL made concussion awareness a public issue, the league had a real knowledge of the long-term effects of head trauma and kept the information under wraps.
"My main objective is, if they knew about it, they should have been disclosed to us," Mandarich said. "It would have probably prompted more action like [there is] today in the NFL."
Mandarich estimated that he suffered six or seven concussions during his six-year career, and as a result, he's become yet another cautionary tale in the battle to further concussion awareness.
"I don't want to say recently, but for years I have taken medication for [depression]," Mandarich told Weber. Mandarich also said he also suffers from short-term memory loss and affected speech.
"Since the workers' compensation laws in each state are different, the National Football League Players Association has designated workers' compensation panel attorneys in each city with an NFL team," Attorney Bryan E. Round, the NFLPA's designated compensation attorney, told nflconcussionlitigation.com on March 16. "The players on the team in that town are not obligated to use that attorney, however ... the panel attorney has a national network of attorneys to consult with and has significant experience in handling these claims."
So, with an attorney network set up to establish these suits, Mr. Round moved on to specify the issue at the heart of these suits.
"As a general proposition concerning the issue of concussions, the player's diagnosis, treatment and long-term effects are just coming to the fore in the National Football League. As such, most players have not been provided with a very strong working knowledge of concussions and how they should be treated. There is certainly a lack of scientific data addressing the long-term effects of those who have suffered concussions during their playing career which is an important aspect of the remedy sought in the concussion-related lawsuits."
But the scientific data is rounding into shape, and the sheer number of lawsuits in place should put a pretty decent-sized scare into the NFL. All it takes is one class-action precedent for the dominoes to start falling in the favor of retired players, who have long been the league's most under-represented majority.
"There's been a resistance on behalf of the NFL to embrace a number of medical studies over the last few years," NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith said in 2009. "It is the primary reason we formed our own traumatic brain injury committee.
"We don't have to rely on the people who employ our players to do everything."
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