There were 152 concussions reported among players for the National Football League (NFL) last year. That is the conclusion of the Concussion Watch project, an effort by Frontline, the PBS documentary series to keep track of the number of traumatic head injuries among players in the NFL. Following a documentary, League of Denial, the project has been tallying the number of NFL head injuries weekly in an effort to bring the problem to the public’s attention.
Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) can result from concussion and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is caused by brain trauma and characterized by personality changes, memory loss, aggression, suicidal behavior and eventually dementia. Many NFL players have shown these symptoms.
This year the Super Bowl will be played by two teams that have players affected by concussions – six for the Seahawks and five for the Broncos.
By the time of the Super Bowl this February, the league had hoped to have a $765 million settlement offered to affected players behind it. The settlement has actually grown with an additional $75 million agreed to by the NFL for medical tests and $10 million to be targeted to player safety education programs for young players. An additional $112 million is expected to cover attorney’s fees.
Even though the Super Bowl is the most profitable game of the NFL season, the controversy over traumatic brain injuries is more difficult to sideline thanks to PBS.
PBS reports that three Hall of Famers have tested positive for signs of CTE. Tony Dorsett, Joe DeLamielleure and Leonard Marshall had brain scans and clinical evaluations at UCLA. Previously CTE was only diagnosed in an autopsy. Now successive brain scans are able to find and identify the protein linked to CTE.
DeLamielleure says during his 12 years with the Buffalo Bills he suffered hundreds of concussions. Today he is depressed, has episodes of anger and sleeplessness. The players are among the 5,000 players who sued the league that generated the proposed settlement. There was no admission of guilt on the part of the NFL in offering the funds and no official recognition that the injuries were caused by football concussions.
The settlement may eventually be based on the degree of injury the player suffered. Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease are thought to have their roots in repeated head injury as well.
While medical monitoring is included in the agreement, there is a catch. Players will be blocked from suing the National Collegiate Athletic Association or any other amateur organization.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 1.7 million TBIs occur annually. Among the elderly and children, falls cause the most TBIs. Motor vehicle crashes and traffic accidents cause about one-third of TBI-related deaths. The CDC estimates do not even include those among military personnel returning from the field.
TBI among boxers was first identified as causing CTE. Aggregation of the protein, tau in nerve cells characterizes CTE, the same protein found in the dying neurons among Alzheimer’s patients and those suffering from frontal-temporal dementia.
The National Football Players’ Concussion Injury Litigation (12-md-02323) is filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
The $914 million settlement is subject to court approval but U.S. District Judge Anita Brody told PBS even if ten percent of retired NFL players eventually receive a diagnosis of brain injury, the funds will not be enough to cover their needs over a lifetime.