Newspaper article

NFL's 'Concussion Settlement' with Retired Players Won't End Growing Concern about Brain Injuries

Newspaper article

NFL's 'Concussion Settlement' with Retired Players Won't End Growing Concern about Brain Injuries

Article excerpt

The proposed $765 million settlement announced Thursday between the National Football League (NFL) and more than 4,500 retired NFL players has been declared a victory by both sides.

The retired players would have more financial resources to help them receive care for debilitating brain injuries that they claim are associated with concussions sustained on the football field. And the NFL does not have to open its files to show what it knew (and when) about the link between football-related concussions and later neurological illness.

The settlement apparently also protects the NFL from any lawsuits from current or future players, as NBC sports writer Mike Florio points out:

Judge Layn Phillips, who brokered the settlement, has made it clear that the courts will be taking a dim view of future allegations that the NFL concealed the impact of concussions or failed to protect players from head injuries.

"For a variety of reasons, the underlying theory of this lawsuit about what took place in the past would be difficult to replicate in the future," Judge Phillips said in a Q&A document released in connection with the settlement. "Everyone now has a much deeper and more substantial understanding about concussions, and how to prevent and manage them, than they did 20 or even 10 years ago, and the information conveyed to players reflects that greater understanding. In addition, the labor law defenses asserted by the NFL would represent a very substantial barrier to asserting these kinds of claims going forward. The combination of advances in medical research, improved equipment, rules changes, greater understanding of concussion management, and enhanced benefits should, and hopefully will, prevent similar lawsuits in the future."

In other words, current and future players are being forewarned: If they sustain any brain injuries during their career, well, they should have known better.

A premature assumption

But Judge Phillips' assumption that "improved equipment, rules changes [and] greater understanding of concussion management" will make the game of football much safer for players is, at best, premature.

Research has shown that modern helmets, for example, do not offer protection against concussions. And very little is understood about managing concussive head injuries. In fact, as reporter Melissa Healy notes in the Los Angeles Times, just diagnosing a concussion can be problematic:

Even in the immediate wake of a ferocious blow to the head, traumatic brain injury can be difficult to show unless there is evidence of bleeding in or swelling of the brain.

CT scans can't detect the brain's massive metabolic disturbance in the wake of trauma. Nor can they measure the shearing of fat- covered axons -- the "white matter" that carries electrical impulses across the hemispheres of the brain and from region to region. …

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