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The Harvard Football Players’ Health Study: A Critique by Brad R. Sohn

2016 November 22

The following is a guest post by Brad R. Sohn

I.  Overview

Paul Anderson invited me to share the following critique of the Football Players Health Study at Harvard University (the “Report”).  This newly published Report claims to analyze legal and ethical obligations facing Pro Football as an industry.  The Report proclaims independence in offering a total of 76 recommendations in areas bearing on Pro Football stakeholder experience, along with a handful of stated abstentions in other areas.   As with just about everything related to the industry of Pro Football, the devil lies in the details, and those details point to opposite conclusions.  A close analysis of this Report reveals its true nature: it is a tour de force of litigation avoidance, and one that seeks to strip retired players of their rights through illusory “enhancements” of the broken collective bargaining system.

II.  The Report’s Claim of Independence Deserves Scrutiny.

Numerous examples in recent times—even without looking to the merits of this study—necessitate heavy scrutiny of any claims of “independence” by Pro Football.  Consider: Neither the NFL, its labor arm the NFL Management Council (the “NFLMC”), nor the NFLPA have performed a longitudinal study of CTE, yet Pro Football’s industry benefitted from the lack of information such a credible study would have provided; both camps rely on “independent” experts on player safety that, at varying times, each side has jointly and also individually compensated.  Independence as generally defined by Pro Football is a very fluid concept.

This Report, in particular, raises my eyebrows for the following reasons: it had a closed peer-review process in which it paid seven hand-picked reviewers between $5,000 and $10,000 for opinions on this work; the majority if not all of the hired “peer-reviewers” support arbitration and medical malpractice tort-reform; its advisory committee contains appointees whose biases raise issues in my mind, including (notably) the wife of NFLPA president Dominique Foxworth; though each lacked editorial control, the NFLPA and NFLPA both had the opportunity to propose revisions to this report; and, at least one of the three authors (hired by the NFLPA) to write this has made attempts to dissuade opt-outs from the NFL Concussion MDL and would gain professionally by the advocated outcomes.

III.  The Report’s Recommendations Bolster The “Pro Football-Industrial Complex.”

The Report highlights ten “top” recommendations, all of which contain a common theme: 1) a CBA-created medical staff for players to be jointly appointed by the NFL and NFLPA; 2) a carefully-crafted recommendation that acknowledges “collective bargaining is the principal method by which changes are made to NFL health policies,” yet opaquely advocates for removal of player health issues from ADVERSARIAL collective bargaining (i.e., not a removal of this issue altogether from collective bargaining); 3) an improvement and CBA-enforcement of various codes of ethics; 4) a CBA-prescribed scientific study of Pro Football’s health risks; 5) a CBA-prescribed continuation of and enhancement to the already “robust” injury-related data collection; 6) an enhancement to the already “robust” measures regarding player health in CBA Article 39 (“Players’ Right to Medical Care”); 7) joint Club and staff support for second opinion medical evaluations; 8) an obligation on clubs to place concussed individuals on a short-term injured reserve list, which would be created by the CBA; 9) greater Player familiarization with their collectively bargained for rights; and 10) player treatment with individual doctors who are jointly approved (based on a new CBA measure.)  Indeed, one struggles to find even one, single recommendation that does not involve existing CBA provisions, a call for CBA-driven enhancements, or means through which damaged players would need to assume greater legal responsibilities themselves (as opposed to the league or the union.)  These recommendations are disingenuous, self-serving, and dangerous.

These recommendations—each of them—embolden a union that has drawn widespread criticism for its ineffectiveness and all-too-cozy relationship with its theoretical adversary: the NFL.  All of the Report’s “recommendations” would erect even stronger barricades to the courthouse doors and make it nearly impossible to ever rectify an injustice.  The key here is not what the study identifies as the ethical-legal problems in Pro Football.  Those problems have been well established for a decade if not longer.  One can watch movies all the way back in time to the 1970s like North Dallas Forty and see Pro Football doctors depicted as treating players like NASCARs.

At the heart of the problem lies procedural failings inherent in the “Pro Football industrial complex”: the players eat at the behest of owners and have assented, through misaligned union representation, to a labor agreement that is already unfair and overbroad.  These recommendations amplify the problem: this Report makes no recommendations redressable outside the boundaries of the CBA.  Giving up even more rights to sue is a serious decision treated lightly (if treated at all) by this Report.  And my opinion is that it has been designed this wa

IV.  The Report Materially Misconstrues and Misrepresents The CBA.

This Report leads readers to two false conclusions: that tort-style damages are available under the CBA’s grievance procedures; and, that the CBA “shop law” permits arbitration of state law tort claims.  Neither of these assertions are true.  Period.  Pro Football entities have tried to avoid any liability whatsoever when sued by claiming (falsely) that players must arbitrate grievances.  In fact, two final, non-appealable orders from CBA arbitrations make unambiguously clear that this is false: Henderson v. Dolphins (Jan. 1988 – Kasher) and Sampson v. Oilers, (Jul. 1988 – Kagel) each expressly show that the CBA does not provide remedies at all for claims such as medical malpractice, gross negligence, and product liability.  The only available money damage awards that players can receive under the non-injury grievance provision are where they dispute matters pertaining to their NFL player contract and monies owed under it.  Finally, and most damning, is the Reports admission that “[t]here have been no Non-Injury Grievances concerning Article 39 decided on the merits, suggesting either clubs are in compliance with Article 39 or the Article has not been sufficiently enforced.”

Indeed, this process of holding teams and the league accountable has been such a smashingly successful endeavor that no individual player has ONCE benefitted from it!  Some courts have even held that retired players lack standing to pursue these sorts of (illusory) claims.  Regardless, arbitration is a forum that favors those who hire the arbitrators time and again.  And while the NFLPA and NFLMC/NFL are seemingly adversaries, neither has an interest in having arbitrators award damages for breached joint responsibilities – another focus of this Report.  Thus, the only way players can be compensated for tort-damages is through tort litigation.  As imperfect a system as that is, it is the only one with “teeth” capable of holding wrongdoers responsible for doing things like concealing (intentionally) the dangers of repetitive head trauma, dispensing drugs in contravention of the law, or committing medical malpractice.

Finally, and disturbingly, notwithstanding the recommendation to remove “player health” from adversarial bargaining, this Report also advocates for letter-amendments to the CBA.  There are significant questions as to whether labor council for the NFLMC and NFLPA can even amend the CBA without a formal, full-scale renegotiation.  Notably, this has only occurred in the context of heavily tort-litigated arenas of the CBA, and, in the minds of some, for the purpose of bolstering a CBA/LMRA-preemption defense to a lawsuit.  (For example, counsel will exchange letters to suggest a CBA amendment for the purpose of attempting to defeat a court’s jurisdiction over a conflict).

Both the NFLMC/NFL and the NFLPA would prefer to handle disputes “in house” and “behind closed doors.”  There is a reason why the New York Times published a multi-part series on the dangers of arbitration, and further, a reason why Congress and many courts have receded from their previously unqualified deference to the arbitral forum.  CBA arbitration—which frequently provides zero remedy for the wrongs identified in this report—is procedurally and substantively unfair, stacking the deck in favor of industry and against the aggrieved.  In fact, it is for this purpose that I believe the entire Report may have been created: to be admissible as a “learned treatise” in litigation as a means of bootstrapping Harvard’s name to the CBA defense.

V.  The Report’s Treatment Of Protective-Equipment Issues Shocks The Conscience.

This Report presents a number of issues in warped fashion and omits key facts, nowhere more apparent than in its presentation of equipment-related issues.  It is remarkable and alarming that the Report praises these manufacturers—one of whom was investigated recently by the Federal Trade Commission for lying, and who also participated in the infamous MTBI Committee’s research—for doing a good job, and as such, defers on recommendations to this entire arena.  In technical legal terms: huh?

Problems with equipment safety are profound as well as circular, and all of the key institutional parties have blood on their hands: the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (“NOCSAE”); ImPACT Applications, LLC; helmet manufacturers; helmet-testing labs; and both labor camps (the NFLMC and NFLPA.)  NOCSAE sets the standards for protective equipment (notably helmets.)  There is an incestuous relationship between these groups that allows innovation on protection standards to stagnate, and that also makes liability more difficult.

Pro Football recognizes it needs helmets and has sought to limit its own liability by remaining at arms-length with companies like Riddell.  In addition, Pro Football recognizes that latent brain injury is a virtually certain result from its game.  So how can Pro Football avoid responsibility?  This is accomplished through requirements that helmet companies rely on “independent” standard-making and testing.  Enter NOCSAE, a self-regulating body (responsible to no one) and comprised—at least in part and at one time by majority—of helmet industry executives.

NOCSAE safety standards expressly do not apply to concussion.  Essentially, NOCSAE crash-tests helmets and determines if equipment can withstand impacts applicable to skull fracture and brain bleed.  ONLY.  In a study paid for by Riddell and the NFL, even the NFL’s experts could not avoid the conclusion that “no helmet can prevent concussion.  Full stop.”  Yet Pro Football uses—and in fact insists—on standards that have materially remained in place for close to a half-century.  Moreover, NOCSAE receives large amounts of money from Pro Football, and though it does not test itself, its technological minds have been employed by the helmet industry’s two principal helmet-testing labs such as the Southern Impact Research Center.  Lab principals at SIRC have testified numerous times as expert witnesses for the defense in helmet-death lawsuits. Football literally uses people paid to say “it wasn’t the helmet’s fault” to develop its warnings and safety standards.

So long as NOCSAE certifies a helmet (based on its outdated standards) the NFL permits use of that helmet.  This includes products such as those cited in the Report, like the Riddell Revolution line.  As studied haphazardly in the Report, Riddell relied on skewed data and statistics to claim its helmet—designed to reduce concussion—was effective.  Riddell’s experiments for this purpose relied on a neurocognitive assessment called “ImPACT.”  ImPACT was created by Pittsburgh Steelers-affiliated neuropsychologists and neurologists, and has more than a 20% false positive AND negative rate.  In other words, the NFL places certification in the hands of a conflicted certification body, which has certified products licensed by the NFL directly, which make claims based on conflicted science.  Yet this report says these entities are making progress.  Toward what?

VI.  Conclusion

We need the right to sue.  It is the easy (but wrong) choice to take the Report at face value.  Indeed, on its face, this Report seems reasonable.  But it is more of the same, and it takes advantage of people’s lack of time to investigate the source of facts.  In the tradition of Big Tobacco, Pro Football has—especially in the past decade-plus—advanced its agendas on important issues through the “third-party technique.”  That is what I believe is at work here.  Check out information on the Third Party Technique on Wikipedia at: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third-party_technique).  And in the meantime, don’t fall for the head fake! 

 

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Brad R. Sohn, Esq. of The Brad Sohn Law Firm graduated cum laude from Harvard University and the University of Miami School of Law.  He handles cases nationwide on behalf of the severely injured, frequently litigating against NFL entities.

The Final Plea, By “Friends of the Court”

2016 November 3

In one last shot to reverse the NFL Concussion Settlement, more than 130 former NFL players and other “friends of the Court” filed amicus briefs with the Supreme Court pleading for help.

The focus is again on CTE, and the settlement’s unfair treatment of thousands of former NFL players who will likely suffer from CTE’s debilitating effects in the future, yet receiving nothing under the settlement.

The 135 former NFL players say they are filing the brief “on behalf of a sampling of the many former NFL players whose interests have been sacrificed at the altar of this settlement.” Their brief highlights four former NFL players whose rights, according to their lawyers, were bargained away:

  • Tony Gaiter is a 42-year-old former player with the New England Patriots. Mr. Gaiter cannot drive a car or hold a job. He suffers from severe depression. He has a history of homelessness. He mutters to himself and has difficulty carrying on a conversation with friends and family members. He no longer cares about his appearance. According to his life-long friends and relatives, his condition has worsened over time. But none of these symptoms of his decline, all of which occurred after his retirement from the NFL and all of which are signs of CTE, are compensable under the current terms of the settlement.
  • Tracy Scroggins, a 47-year-old former Detroit Lion, also joins this brief. Mr. Scroggins has withdrawn from the world as a result of his bouts of aggression, anxiety, poor impulse control, and anger. He suffers from depression. He has severe insomnia, often going several nights without sleeping. He has difficulty with focus, attention, concentration, and memory. As a result of his symptoms, he can no longer hold a job and support himself. Mr. Scroggins’ symptoms and medical evaluations strongly indicate that he is suffering from CTE. But unless he also manifests a qualifying disease, the settlement will not compensate him for these losses.
  • Rose Stabler, the ex-wife of Hall of Fame quarterback Kenny Stabler, joins this brief. Mr. Stabler died in 2015, and his autopsy revealed severe stage-3 CTE. Before his death, Mr. Stabler suffered from mood swings and other mental issues that destroyed their marriage. Mr. Stabler and his heirs cannot recover for CTE injuries under the settlement as currently drafted because he died after the settlement was finalized. In its current form, the settlement compensates players who died with CTE prior to April 22, 2015, up to $4 million. Any player unfortunate enough to die with CTE after that date recovers nothing under the settlement, absent proof of another qualifying disease. Which means, although Kenny Stabler died with severe CTE on July 8, 2015, a mere two and a half months after the cut off, his estate can recover nothing under the current settlement.
  • William Floyd also joins. Mr. Floyd played with the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers during his seven-year NFL career. At age 44, he suffers from chronic headaches. He cannot stay on task. He is socially isolated. As his neuropsychological assessment concludes, “Mr. Floyd is totally disabled to the extent that he is unable to engage in any occupation for remuneration or profit.”

All told, the “friends of the court” urge the Supreme Court to grant review of the NFL Concussion Settlement.

What’s next?

The NFL and Class Counsel have until November 7 to file their opposition briefs—arguing why cert should be denied. Thereafter, the briefs will be circulated to the justices and a decision — whether to grant or deny cert — will be made sometime in December.

The amicus briefs filed in support of SCOTUS granting cert can be found here:

The NFL Concussion Litigation is Far From Over

2016 October 3

Although the NFL Concussion Settlement appeared to have reached the goal line (when the Third Circuit affirmed the deal), a late Hail Mary to the Supreme Court may have extended the litigation into overtime. (Enough with the football references.) Here is what’s at stake.

In late August, the family of the late Cookie Gilchrist filed a petition for a writ of certiorari asking the Supreme Court to review the settlement. Shortly thereafter, the objectors’ most valuable player – Deepak Gupta – filed a separate petition asking the Supreme Court to weigh in on the settlement’s deficiencies.

Pleading that the Supreme Court grant cert., Deepak argued why this case demands the Court’s attention:

If this Court does not intervene now, the consequences will be severe: not only will lawyers and litigants be handed a blueprint for circumventing Amchem and Ortiz, but thousands of former football players later diagnosed with CTE may file suit in the Second Circuit—and that circuit’s precedent will permit them to collaterally attack the settlement on the ground that it did not provide them any compensation. This is thus the rare case in which a split in the circuits may lead to a different result in the same litigation—litigation affecting the lives of thousands of people, hundreds of millions of dollars, and the future of professional football. This Court’s intervention is required.

Enmeshed in fairly complex legal arguments about class actions, the thrust of Deepak’s brief is the settlement’s disparate treatment of CTE—and how its implementation into the settlement violates the “ground rules” of class actions. In other words, Deepak zeroes in on the alleged conflict between those individuals who died with CTE prior to April 22, 2015 (who will receive up to $4 million) and those individuals who die after April 22, 2015 with CTE (who will receive nothing). Deepak argues that this creates a massive conflict of interest between the class members, and as such requires reversal. (The full brief can be found here.)

More still, Deepak foreshadows the potential havoc that has been wreaked by the settlement. Rather than buying global peace, the settlement may be subject to a “collateral attack,” which would allow certain CTE claimants (those who receive nothing, such as Ken Stabler’s family) to file separate lawsuits requesting that the settlement’s release be struck down because it violates due process. Stated another way, the settlement may open the flood gates to a tsunami of future CTE litigation, while simultaneously triggering a circuit conflict in class action jurisprudence.

Though compelling, the chances of the Supreme Court granting cert. are slim. Indeed, each term 7,000 – 8,000 petitions for cert. are filed, and the Court grants less than 80 of them. And even if the Court agrees to take the case, the likelihood of reversal is even more daunting.

The Supreme Court’s timing in which a decision will be made—i.e., whether to hear the case or not—is somewhat elusive. Deepak’s case was “docketed” on September 29, 2016. The NFL and Class Counsel have until November 2, 2016, to file a brief in opposition in which they will argue why the Court should not take the case. Similarly, any amicus briefs in support of the cert. petition must be filed by October 31, 2016. After this date, the briefs are “distributed to the Justices’ chambers” where they decide whether to grant or deny the petition. (The SCOTUS Blog breaks down the inner workings here). Traditionally, four justices must agree to hear the case.

The decision-making process is somewhat opaque, i.e., there is no definitive timeline, but most SCOTUS observers believe the turnaround will be relatively quick. In other words, there will likely be a decision before Christmas.

If the Court declines to review the case, all appeals are exhausted and the settlement becomes effective. On the other hand, if the Court grants cert., it can “pursue several options.” A breakdown of those options can be found here. But most notably, though unlikely, the Court can schedule briefing and oral argument, which would inevitably drag the NFL Concussion Litigation out for another year, if not longer.

We will continue to monitor the Court’s docket and timely update the status of this appeal.

The Derek Sheely Litigation Leads to a Landmark Settlement

2016 August 9

On August 28, 2011, Derek Sheely died as a result of second-impact syndrome. On August 22, 2013, the family of Derek Sheely filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the NCAA, Kranos (dba “Schutt Sports”), George L. Heider, Inc. (dba “Sportsmans”), two Frostburg State University (“FSU”) coaches, and a Frostburg State athletic trainer, asserting that Derek’s death was a preventable tragedy.

After almost three years of hard-fought litigation, and near the eve of trial, the Parties announced that a settlement was reached. The settlement provides that the Defendants will pay $1,200,000.00 to The Derek Sheely Foundation.

“This is a landmark settlement not just because it is the first brain-injury case that the NCAA has agreed to pay a significant amount of money to resolve, but also because the stakeholders of football are now on notice that they have an obligation to protect the health and safety of the athletes, and if they fail to do so, there will be vast repercussions,” said the Sheely’s attorney Kenneth McClain of Humphrey, Farrington & McClain, in Independence, MO. “While we were eager to try this case to a jury, we were able to craft a settlement that will have a much greater impact than a verdict could have achieved in this case.”

In addition to the monetary terms, the Parties agreed to the following terms that are aimed at increasing awareness and research about concussions.

  • The NCAA and FSU, including by and through the University of Maryland medical division, will sponsor and fund, in conjunction with The Derek Sheely Foundation, a symposium in honor of Derek Sheely to occur no later than December 31, 2018.  It will focus on reduction of catastrophic risk to student-athletes or another similar topic. The symposium will be presented to coaches, trainers, sports medicine personnel, student-athletes, youth, and parents.  Participants in the symposium or lecture series are expected to include the representatives of the NCAA and the Sports Sciences Institute, a representative of The Derek Sheely Foundation, prominent neurologists, team physicians, and other experts in the field.  The NCAA and FSU will evaluate whether to sponsor or co-host additional symposiums with The Derek Sheely Foundation.
  • FSU will establish an annual Derek Sheely Foundation fundraiser on campus to begin no later than August 1, 2017.  FSU will consult with The Derek Sheely Foundation on the schedule and nature of the fundraiser.
  • FSU will provide sufficient funding to enable The Derek Thomson Sheely Leadership Award to be increased to a full-tuition scholarship for a minimum of 10 years, and potentially longer, to begin on or before the 2017-2018 academic year.
  • The NCAA and FSU, in conjunction with The Derek Sheely Foundation, will make a research award towards a project dealing with catastrophic risk no later than December 31, 2018.  The Derek Sheely Foundation will be consulted on the topic of the research award project.  In addition, the Derek Sheely Foundation will be acknowledged as a sponsor of the research.
  • FSU will retire Derek Sheely’s number and display it in a location on campus.  FSU will consult with The Derek Sheely Foundation on the location.  In addition, the 2016 FSU football program will include a feature in memorial of Derek Sheely identifying his years at FSU, his jersey number 40, his position, a photo, and The Derek Sheely Foundation.
  • The NCAA will continue to discuss with its member institutions policies regarding concussion guideline enforcement, concussion and second-impact syndrome training for coaches and trainers and elimination of certain drills.
  • The NCAA will produce a new video addressing risks of head injuries, including second-impact syndrome, in sports that will be available to member institutions on or before June 1, 2017.

“This is a tremendous result that will guarantee that The Derek Sheely Foundation will be able to continue its mission of protecting the health and safety of athletes, while also ensuring that Derek’s legacy lives on through the Foundation,” said the Sheely’s attorney Paul D. Anderson of The Klamann Law Firm, in Kansas City, MO. “This unprecedented litigation and subsequent settlement have solidified that second-impact syndrome is not an inherent risk of sport and that those who are responsible for the safety of athletes must take affirmative action to prevent a tragedy like Derek’s from ever happening again.”

Statement from Ken and Kristen Sheely

In August 2011, our beloved son Derek Sheely suffered a fatal brain injury during football practice and our lives have been forever devastated.  We established the non-profit Derek Sheely Foundation to increase awareness and research into sports-related concussions in hopes of preventing other children from suffering Derek’s fate. This settlement will help the Derek Sheely Foundation achieve its goals.

We wish to thank the brave players who stepped forward for Derek.

We believe that Derek’s case has set an important precedent and helped shape the national dialog.  We also believe that more must be done to protect athletes, and we will continue to make this our mission.

The New ‘League of Denial’

2016 July 29

Taking a page from the industry’s playbook, the NHL now appears to be the new “League of Denial.” In a 24-page missive, filed in reply to Senator Blumenthal’s letter, Gary Bettman and the NHL made clear that they believe CTE is bogus. Not only that, Bettman hedged his bets and asserted that warning about CTE is dangerous and can lead to suicide. Seriously:

To be clear, the NHL and NHLPA’s position is that a “warning” about CTE is, at best, premature and also potentially dangerous (as discussed further below). […]

This, sadly, is precisely the type of tragedy that can result when plaintiffs’ lawyers and their media consultants jump ahead of the medical community and assert, without reliable scientific support, that there is a causal link between concussions and CTE.

The medical community was appalled, and so am I. I was recently quoted in The Globe and Mail,

“I think his letter is outrageous,” said Paul D. Anderson, a Kansas City lawyer who has represented many former NFL players in concussion lawsuits and runs NFLconcussionlitigation.com. “Frankly, I’m shocked that it was even published. It does a terrible disservice from a public-health perspective.”

I also joined Naylor & Landsberg to discuss my outrage: http://www.tsn.ca/nfl/video/bettman-denies-link-between-cte-and-concussions~920033

NFL to Enforce Concussion Protocol Violations

2016 July 26

The NFL and NFLPA announced new rules aimed at enhancing player safety. Starting this season, teams will be fined and/or face draft-pick penalties if it is determined that they have failed to follow basic safety principles, i.e. the “NFL Game Day Concussion Protocol.”

Per the NFL, this is how the policy will be enforced:

According to the policy, the NFL and NFLPA will each designate a representative to monitor the implementation of the protocol and investigate potential violations. The investigation will not reach medical conclusions; it will only determine whether the protocol was followed. Following the investigation, the NFL and NFLPA will review the findings to determine if a violation occurred and, if so, to recommend the proper disciplinary response. If the parties are unable to agree, the matter will be brought to a third party arbitrator. After conducting a thorough review, the arbitrator will issue a report to the Commissioner, NFLPA Executive Director and the involved parties.

As jointly agreed to by the NFL and NFLPA, the Commissioner retains absolute discretion in determining penalties for violations of the concussion protocol. Potential disciplinary action includes:

A first violation will require the club employees or medical team members involved to attend remedial education; and/or result in a maximum fine of $150,000 against the club.

Second and subsequent violations of the concussion protocol will result in a minimum fine of $100,000 against the club.

In the event the parties agree that a violation involved aggravating circumstances, the club shall be subject, in the first instance, to a fine no less than $50,000. The Commissioner shall determine appropriate discipline for subsequent violations involving aggravating circumstances.

In the event that the Commissioner determines that the club’s medical team failed to follow the protocol due to competitive considerations, the Commissioner may require the club to forfeit draft pick(s) and impose additional fines exceeding those amounts set forth above.

Though some—like me—should rightfully question why it took so long, the NFL and NFLPA should be applauded (golf claps) for their implementation of this policy.

Coincidentally, this new policy was not implemented until after the NFL’s discredited “medical administrator” and former head of the NFL’s MTBI Committee, Elliot Pellman, was finally sent packing.

Perhaps Pellman, who reportedly was involved with the NFL’s ATC spotter program, was a dissident to implementing an enforcement mechanism, and hence this gave the NFL yet another reason—out of a million—to force him into retirement.

More likely, though, this policy was implemented to bar players from filing malpractice lawsuits against team personnel. By making return-to-play decisions and any subsequent investigations and violations part of the collective bargaining agreement process (e.g., “Commissioner retains absolute discretion”), this will arguably trigger Section 301 preemption, forcing all such disputes to be resolved in arbitration rather than by a jury in state or federal court. Put another way, by agreeing to this policy, the NFLPA may have forfeited a player’s right to seek redress for his injuries in a court of law.

For example, imagine if Casey Keenum would have suffered second-impact syndrome after the Rams failed to follow the concussion protocol. Now, instead of a team (or its medical personnel) facing the threat of a jury verdict for millions of dollars as a result of its failure to abide by the NFL Game Day Concussion Protocol, a team will be subject to a $100,000.00+ fine levied by the owners’ hand-picked judge, Roger Goodell.

That’s quite a windfall: the NFL gets positive press for implementing this policy and the owners get to avoid costly litigation.

Whatever the motivations, one thing is certain: the recent rule changes made in the NFL can be directly tied to the litigation that exposed the NFL’s wrongful conduct and in turn forced other leagues and stakeholders to implement concussion protocols. Undoubtedly, the players today are in a much better working environment than the pre-2011 players.

While I won’t say the NFL has been a leader in this realm, it is fair to say that the majority of leagues look to the NFL when it comes to the implementation of concussion policies.

As a result, other leagues such as the NCAA, should promptly implement association-wide enforcement measures which mirror the NFL’s.

This will ensure that the oft-touted platitude of making player safety a priority is more than mere words.

NFL Clubs Lose Preemption Argument

2016 July 2

On July 1, 2016, Judge Alsup issued an Order in the NFL Drug Litigation DENYING the Clubs’ attempt to dismiss the case. Judge Alsup found that the CBAs do not immunize the Clubs from their allegedly illegal activity.

So too here. Plaintiffs allege that the clubs made intentional misrepresentations to plaintiffs regarding medications in violation of the Controlled Substances Act and the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Because the CBAs could not have validly sanctioned the indiscriminate distribution of medications in violation of these statutes, the terms of the CBA need not be construed. The statutory prohibition against such conduct stood independently from any CBA. Galvez v. Kuhn, 933 F.2d 773, 777 (9th Cir. 1991). Moreover, Section 301 does not preempt claims to “vindicate nonnegotiable state law rights.” Cramer, 255 F.3d at 697. Therefore, plaintiffs’ claims are not preempted under Section 301. The motion to dismiss on the basis of preemption is therefore DENIED.

This is a significant victory for former players. It now opens the door to discovery and puts tremendous pressure on the NFL and Clubs.

The full Order can be found here.

A Nightmare Roller-Coaster for Karageorge’s Family

2016 June 23

The New York Times recently published a gut-wrenching story on the downward spiral and subsequent tragic end to a young athlete’s life. Kosta Karageorge wrestled and played football at Ohio State University. He reportedly suffered numerous concussions, in addition to an immeasurable number of sub-concussions.

Karageorge committed suicide in November 2014. His body was found in a dumpster a few days later with a bullet wound to his head.

Kosta

According to reports, the coroner’s office sent Karageorge’s brain to an Ohio State University pathologist, Dr. Norman Lehman, for further examination. Following an apparent examination, Dr. Norman publicly concluded that Karageorge “did not have CTE.”

When this report was released, I was suspect of the conclusion, especially in light of the fact that Dr. Lehman does not appear to have any expertise in the examination or diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases, including CTE. Instead, while admirable, his specialty appears to be geared towards “cell cycle” and cancer.

Fortunately, the family—or through the advice of others—sought a second opinion.

The godmother of CTE, Dr. Ann McKee, analyzed Karageorge’s brain and determined that he had a history of traumatic brain injuries (traces of microhemorrhaging in the prefrontal cortex) and Stage 1 CTE.

This was an explanation the Karageorges were desperately searching for: “they interpreted the report as an explanation for their son’s erratic behavior,” according to the New York Times. Unfortunately, the Karageorges were forced to suffer through a roller-coaster of emotions before they received the results—all of which could and should have been avoided had the appropriate person analyzed Karageorge’s brain ab initio.

*          *          *

Based on the reports, Karageorge’s issues were multi-factorial, including a history of mental-health problems and sport-related traumatic brain injuries, which are often a recipe for disaster. But several important lessons can be learned from Karageorge’s death.

First, athlete mental-health and well-being must be a primary focus on all campuses. Although the NCAA recently published its first “Mental Health Best Practices,” it is doubtful that a large percentage of member universities have actually implemented these programs. Of course, as history has shown, this is expected when the NCAA’s laissez-faire approach merely sounds in “recommendations” as opposed to mandates.

Second, to avoid another botched CTE examination by a seemingly unqualified pathologist, the NCAA and member institutions should take affirmative action to implement a system whereby they coordinate with family members of the decedent and provide guidance—or in the words of the NCAA, “recommendations”—on the appropriate individual or institution that should evaluate a loved one’s brain for CTE. This will ensure that another family is not subjected to a ricochet of emotions regarding the results of a CTE analysis, while also helping to advance the science.

And while numerous other lessons can be learned, Karageorge’s death and early-stage diagnosis of CTE is yet another stark reminder that young athletes are being subjected to repetitive brain trauma and therefore stakeholders must take immediate action to reduce this needless trauma. That is why common-sense approaches like limiting contact practices and promoting flag football should be implemented post-haste.

A New CTE Doubter Emerges

2016 June 21

The Buffalo News is currently rolling out an impressive multi-part series on the NHL concussion litigation. (See the series here). In today’s piece titled, “No easy answers in concussion suit” the article quotes a “concussion specialist,” Dr. John Leddy, from the University of Buffalo. Notably, Leddy rattled off the “manufacture-of-doubt” script that has been repeatedly debunked,

[T]here is no scientifically established causal link between playing football in the past or hockey or repetitive head injuries and CTE right now. … the answers as to whether repetitive contact in sports causes CTE is not known right now.

Like an old broken record, this narrative should be thrown in the trash, especially in light of the insurmountable evidence defining precisely the opposite.

In fact, science identified this unequivocal link more than 80 years ago and stated it in forceful fashion,

1933

Surprisingly, this statement appears in the NCAA’s sports medicine handbook, published in July 1933. The preface authored by three medical doctors from Wesleyan, Harvard and Princeton states,

It is hoped that doctors, coaches, and trainers who have charge of athletic squads will find the report helpful in the administration of their responsibility.

Unfortunately, as the history of concussion litigation has shown, this “responsibility” was not administered in a reasonable way. Instead, the stakeholders of sport spent years denying and covering up this link. Leddy’s comments are just more of the same. They are not only irresponsible but they also fly in the face of well-established principles of public health.

As Professor Goldberg noted in his leading article published in the Journal of Legal Medicine, demanding the type of scientific certainty that Leddy apparently requires is often impossible and is precisely the strategy used by industry to create doubt:

industry and its consultants are well aware that their use of uncertainty exploits the very nature of science.

That is why, from a public health perspective, we must,

err[] on the side of caution in the face of epidemiologic uncertainty…[and thus] public health policy and practice with regard to mTBI and long-term brain injury ought not be pinned to the resolution of the causal relation.

That is to say, the responsible policy and practice requires doctors, “concussion specialists” and the stakeholders of sport to stop casting doubt and uncertainty on the link between repetitive brain trauma and CTE, and instead take affirmative action to warn, educate and reduce the risks of CTE.

While Leddy’s comments may be appropriate, at best, for an academic discussion among his colleagues, they certainly are not worthy of publication in the popular press.

***

A reader recently pointed out that Leddy’s clinic in Buffalo was awarded a $100,000 grant from the NFL Charities in 2012. It is no surprise, then, that he would make this kind of statement since it follows the NFL’s script.

Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against NCAA is Getting Settled

2016 June 17

Courtesy of CBS Sports:

By Jon Solomon

Wrongful death lawsuit vs. NCAA is getting settled

On the eve of trial, a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of a Division III football player against the NCAA is getting settled, according to a court filing Thursday in Rockville, Maryland. The Derek Sheely trial against the NCAA, ex-Frostburg State employees and helmet manufacturer Schutt Sports had been scheduled to start Monday and last 24 days.

On Thursday, the court docket showed a joint line saying the case is being stayed for 60 days “to complete the settlement process.” Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. Sheely attorney Paul Anderson said in a statement: “The trial has been postponed to allow the parties to complete the process of settling this matter.” The NCAA declined to comment beyond the court filing.

Sheely was a Frostburg State football player who collapsed during a 2011 practice after suffering a head injury and later died. Two years later, his family sued the NCAA, head coach Tom Rogish, running backs coach Jamie Schumacher, trainer Michael Sweitzer Jr., and Schutt Sports. The Sheely family claimed the Frostburg State employees missed multiple opportunities to treat their son’s head injury, and the NCAA failed to implement concussion rules or investigate his death.

[…]

The NCAA argued in court that it has no legal duty to protect players because it’s a sports organization. But in a sign of how concussions are evolving before the courts, Montgomery County Circuit Judge David Boynton denied the NCAA’s motion for summary judgment in April, setting the stage for a potential trial. Boynton determined that the NCAA has a “special relationship” since its mission statement is to protect college athletes and the type of head injury that allegedly killed Sheely — second-impact syndrome from multiple concussions — is not a known inherent risk of playing football.

For more, see here: http://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/why-archie-griffins-brother-is-suing-ncaa-big-ten-over-concussions/