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Raining on the NFL’s $30 Million Parade

2012 September 5

The NFL announced that it was granting $30 million to the National Institutes of Health to go towards the study of neurological diseases — coincidentally, Seau’s brain is currently being examined here (let the conspiracy theorist run wild). Obviously, this is a generous donation and the NFL should be applauded accordingly.

But, do notice the timing.

The NFL is trying to regain its image in the court of public opinion after taking several hits following the string of suicides; former players saying they won’t let their children play; and even worse, that the NFL’s about-face is insincere — primarily triggered by lawsuits.

The American Academy of Neurology released a study today, that was first reported by Jason Koebler of US News, which concludes, five year veterans are three times more likely to die from a neurological disease when compared to the general population.

The study confirms several allegations in the players’ lawsuits.

First, several former NFL players — Pete Duranko and Wally Hilgenberg, to name a few — were initially diagnosed with ALS. Now it appears, post-mortem, that they actually had the neurodegenerative disease, CTE. This likely suggests that several other deceased former players also had CTE.

Second, this study provides a glimpse of the reality behind the NFL and NFLPA’s touted statistic that players live longer than the general population. Though this may be true, it highlights that their quality of life is often much worse.

Third, and most importantly, football-induced brain trauma causes neurocognitive disorders. Or, at the very least, players are at an increased rate of dying from a neurological disorder. Although this study shows that there is a causal link between football and brain damage, the most significant challenge for the plaintiffs will be that the NFL proximately caused their brain damage, as opposed to the hits taken in college, high school and peewee – which may be impossible to prove.

Finally, this study and others may be helpful if the plaintiffs get to the stage of determining damages – i.e. calculating compensation. The study suggests that certain position players, such as special team wedge busters, are at a higher risk of having neurocognitive disorders, as opposed to “nonspeed positions” like linemen. However, studies from the Amen Clinic seem to refute this, as does Dr. Robert Cantu. Linemen are just as vulnerable to having neurodegenerative diseases due to the “repeated banging of the head day in and day out,” while in the trenches.

At the end of the day, and despite the posturing, the culture about concussions has changed for the better, whether it was spurned by lawsuits or by evolving science. We can only hope that the NFL will continue to enjoy, and bank roll, its self-proclaimed role as the leader of concussion awareness.

Click here to read the study: Neurodegenerative causes of death among retired National Football League Players 

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