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Stabler’s Death is a Stark Reminder About the Settlement’s Deficiencies

2015 July 10

On Thursday, news broke—then retracted, then confirmed—that Ken Stabler passed away at the age of 69 following a battle with colon cancer.

Stabler was among the thousands of players who filed a concussion lawsuit against the NFL. In his 2012 lawsuit, Stabler alleged that he “suffered repeated and chronic head impacts during his career…and…has experienced cognitive and other difficulties including, but not limited to, headaches, dizziness, depression, fatigue, sleep problems, irritability, and numbness/tingling in neck/cervical spine.”

In other words, symptoms consistent with CTE.

That is perhaps one reason why his family announced that they intend to donate Stabler’s brain and spinal cord to Boston University’s Center for CTE—to determine definitively whether Stabler suffered from CTE.

The family also hopes to advance the science relating to degenerative brain disease in athletes.

This is a courageous move by Stabler’s family, and hopefully other families will follow Stabler’s lead. Because, unfortunately, the NFL Concussion Settlement does not incentivize families for going through the process of having their loved one’s brain donated to science.

Nope; instead, families who later learn that their loved one was diagnosed with the “industrial disease of football” will be left without recourse since the NFL Concussion Settlement bargained away those rights.

If it is determined that Stabler had CTE, his family will receive nothing under the settlement. Stabler’s death will likely be a sad and constant reminder of the deficiencies of the NFL Concussion Settlement: no future CTE claims will ever be paid.

Unless a former player’s death fell within a discrete window between January 1, 2006 to April 22, 2015 and subsequently received a CTE diagnosis, the settlement forecloses any compensation for future CTE claims.

So, for example, while Dave Duerson’s family will rightfully receive compensation for “Death with CTE” under the settlement, Stabler, who was exposed to similar brain trauma, will receive nothing for suffering years of “repeated and chronic impacts.”

The same unfair result—assuming they receive a post-mortem diagnosis of CTE—will strike the families of Charlie Sanders, Damion Cook, Adrian Robinson, John David Crow, and many more to come.

Although Stabler’s family won’t be compensated, perhaps his brain donation will provide a significant contribution to the ongoing, and essential, study of CTE.

Rest in peace, Mr. Stabler.

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