By MARYCLAIRE DALE, Associated Press
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A concussion-related lawsuit bringing together scores of cases has been filed in federal court, accusing the NFL of hiding information that linked football-related head trauma to permanent brain injuries.
Lawyers for former players say more than 80 pending lawsuits are consolidated in the "master complaint" filed Thursday in Philadelphia.
Plaintiffs hope to hold the NFL responsible for the care of players suffering from dementia, Alzheimer's disease and other neurological conditions. Other former players remain asymptomatic, but worry about the future and want medical monitoring.
The suit accuses the NFL of "mythologizing" and glorifying violence through the media, including its NFL Films division.
"The NFL, like the sport of boxing, was aware of the health risks associated with repetitive blows producing sub-concussive and concussive results and the fact that some members of the NFL player population were at significant risk of developing long-term brain damage and cognitive decline as a result," the complaint charges.
"Despite its knowledge and controlling role in governing player conduct on and off the field, the NFL turned a blind eye to the risk and failed to warn and/or impose safety regulations governing this well-recognized health and safety problem."
The league has denied similar accusations in the past.
"Our legal team will review today's filing that is intended to consolidate plaintiffs' existing claims into one "master" complaint," the NFL said in a statement. "The NFL has long made player safety a priority and continues to do so. Any allegation that the NFL sought to mislead players has no merit. It stands in contrast to the league's many actions to better protect players and advance the science and medical understanding of the management and treatment of concussions."
The NFL provides a series of medical benefits to former NFL players to help them after football, including joint replacement, neurological evaluations and spine treatment programs, assisted living partnerships, long-term care insurance, prescription benefits, life insurance programs, and a Medicare supplement program.
One of the programs, the 88 Plan, named after Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey, provides funding to treat dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Players do not need to demonstrate that the condition was caused by their participation in the NFL.
Overall, the NFL, in partnership with the NFLPA, has spent more than a billion dollars on pensions, medical and disability benefits for retired players.
Mary Ann Easterling will remain a plaintiff despite the April suicide of her husband, former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling, who had been a named plaintiff in a suit filed last year.
Easterling, 62, suffered from undiagnosed dementia for many years that left him angry and volatile, his widow said. He acted out of character, behaving oddly at family parties and making risky business decisions that eventually cost them their home. They were married 36 years and had one daughter. She believes the NFL has no idea what families go through.
"I wish I could sit down with (NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell) and share with him the pain. It's not just the spouses, it's the kids, too," Easterling, 59, told The Associated Press from her home in Richmond, Va. "Kids don't understand why Dad is angry all the time."
Ray Easterling played for the Falcons from 1972 to 1979, helping to lead the team's "Gritz Blitz" defense in 1977 that set the NFL record for fewest points allowed in a season. He never earned more than $75,000 from the sport, his widow said. After his football career, he started a financial services company, but had to abandon the career in about 1990, plagued by insomnia and depression, she said.
"I think the thing that was so discouraging was just the denial by the NFL," Mary Ann Easterling said. "His sentiment toward the end was that if he had a choice to do it all over again, he wouldn't (play). ... He was realizing how fast he was going downhill."