This blog has run a number of stories over the past year or so about the growing realization in the sporting world about just how serious an issue the incidence of concussions is for athletes. In particular, a story was posted on March 11, 2011 concerning the tragic suicide of former NFL All-Pro defensive back, Dave Duerson, who left a note asking that his brain be removed and submitted for research being conducted at Boston University into traumatic brain encephalopathy (CTE).
Now news stories have reported that Duerson’s son, Tregg, has sued the NFL in state court in Chicago. The suit contends that the NFL handling of his concussions led to his brain damage and ultimately to his suicide.
Duerson shot himself on Feb. 17, 2011. Subsequent tests run on his brain at Boston University confirmed that he suffered from CTE, which is caused by repeated trauma to the brain. It is characterized by cognitive dysfunction, depression and lack of impulse control. CTE has already been confirmed in more than two dozen retired NFL players.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Duerson’s estate. It is similar to hundreds of claims that have now been filed by former NFL players who claim that their memory loss, constant headaches and other disorders stem from the mismanagement of concussions sustained during their playing careers. These players in general contend that the NFL knew, or should have known, of the long-term impact of concussions as far back as the 1920s. The NFL only recently acknowledged any link between concussions and brain damage.
Dureson’s lawsuit, like many other claims, also named as defendants Riddell, the company that manufactured helmets worn during Duerson’s time in the NFL. The suit alleges that Riddell officials knew that helmets did not adequately protect players against concussions and failed to take any steps to warn players of the danger.
There are two wrinkles in the Duerson case that could be important as it moves forward. First, many players with current claims cannot actually prove that they have CTE. Duerson’s family learned in May, 2011 from Boston University researchers that he did indeed suffer from CTE. Second, in Duerson’s last years he served on a six person committee that determined disability claims filed by retired NFL players. As late as 2007 Duerson testified before a Congressional committee that he doubted that there was a link between concussions and traumatic brain injury.
Yet at the end he himself wrote the note found near his body that asked for his brain to be taken to Boston University for inspection. His son says that this is a clear indication that he knew he suffered from a mental illness condition and that it was related to football injuries.
A complete report on the Duerson lawsuit can be found in a recent New York Times article. Hopefully, when we reach the second anniversary of the article run in The Sport Digest last March, we will observe significant progress in dealing with concussions and with compensating those retired NFL players who have suffered permanent injuries because of these traumatic blows to their heads. It would be great if the NFL and the Players Association would join forces with groups representing retired players and try to solve this seemingly intractable problem.
The diagnosis and treatment of sports injuries, including concussions, is a focal point of areas of concentration in studies at the United States Sports Academy. For more information, go to the Academy’s web site at http://ussa.edu.