Helen M Farrell M.D.

Frontpage Forensics

Football Follies: N.F.L. Plays Defense in Court

Players and N.F.L. face off in a class action lawsuit

Posted Apr 09, 2013

What do dementia, suicide, brain injury, touchdown, and interception have in common?

They have become synonymous with the game of football. Medical terminology crept into football commentary last year at an uncomfortable rate. Legal action against the National Football League (N.F.L.) related to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has gained a significant amount of media attention and it now threatens the credibility and future of the N.F.L.

Today, the N.F.L. battles in court against thousands of retirees in a case that will help determine the league’s role in caring for players with dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases.

What is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)?

CTE is a neurodegenerative syndrome caused by blunt force to the head that transfers acceleration/deceleration forces to the brain.

The clinical syndrome of CTE effects both neurological and psychiatric processes. Afflicted individuals can have changes in cognition. These alter a person’s memory and ability to carry out tasks needed for everyday life. Making a simple grocery list, getting to the store, or balancing a checkbook becomes daunting tasks.

Mood changes, particularly depression, are common in people suffering from CTE. Clinical depression is a lingering sense of dysphoria that negatively affects one’s appetite, sleep, concentration, and self-esteem. People who are depressed lack motivation, often can’t get out of bed, and no longer enjoy hobbies.

CTE is Associated with Suicide

Severe depression can lead to suicidal thoughts and actions. Remember the high-profile suicide of 12-time Pro Bowler San Diego Charger, Junior Seau? He shot himself. It was recently reported by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and Dr. Russell Lonser at The Ohio State University that Seau suffered from CTE.

Suicide is the gravest manifestation of CTE. It can also change one’s personality, behavior, ability to control impulses, and lead to neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and motor neuron disease.

Class Action Lawsuit against the N.F.L.

While their players are performing despite “repetitive head impacts,” the NFL enjoys substantial revenue from the sport. According to the Master Complaint, filed in federal court in Philadelphia, the N.F.L.’s annual gross income is approximately $9.3 billion.

Players and their families are now seeking retribution for their injuries resulting in participation in N.F.L. games. The “Master Complaint,” unites more than 80 pending tort suits filed against the N.F.L.

The N.F.L. has faced much scrutiny and public perception of the game’s safety has waned during this litigious period. People wonder if the League can adequately protect its players while maintaining the integrity of the beloved sport. Possible legal outcomes range from dismissal of the case to retribution for players and their families.

Whatever the outcome, the N.F.L. is most definitely on the defensive during this long and arduous legal battle. Saving the League’s integrity could come down to a “Hail Mary” in the court of law.

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