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NFL settles concussion lawsuit for chump change, but what about the lies it peddled to school kids?

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The National Football League’s settlement of a lawsuit over the issue of player concussions will cost $765 million, which is about 7.6 percent of  the league’s revenues in one year — and the money will be paid over the course of 20 years.

Beyond the chump-change financial angle, there’s another problem with the settlement, as Alan Schwarz EXPLAINS:

Under the no-fault deal, the N.F.L. can forever deny that it could have mitigated its players’ dementia or memory loss or that its focus ever strayed from the safety of football players, from professionals down to peewees.

Even the mediator who brokered the settlement, Judge Layn Phillips, concluded, “Parents should know that the N.F.L. and the plaintiffs are committed to doing what’s right for the game and making it safer at all levels.”

To those versed in the league’s concussion history, invoking the N.F.L.’s influence on the four million children who play youth and high school football was particularly curious. While both retired players and N.F.L. executives claimed victory over the settlement, which will cover future expenses related to on-the-job brain damage, invisible behind them was the legion of young players who have long been endangered by the league’s actions — those same actions that the settlement effectively absolved.

Only after intense news media and Congressional pressure from 2007 to 2009 did the N.F.L. even acknowledge that concussions could have long-term neurological effects. Before that, N.F.L. officials and the league’s committee on brain injuries discredited any suggestion in the popular or scientific press that concussions were any more than the “dings” that players became accustomed to calling them. While international groups of doctors were beginning to emphasize the dangers of repeated brain trauma in sports, the N.F.L. waited.

Some were more brazen than others. In 2000, the Cowboys’ owner, Jerry Jones, told ESPN that he would push Troy Aikman, one of football’s most popular players, to ignore concussion concerns during the playoffs “since all data that we have so far don’t point to any lasting effects, long-term effects from the head trauma.”

The N.F.L. committee, dominated by team-employed physicians, was formed in 1994 to investigate why often-concussed stars like Steve Young were having such trouble staying in games. It soon published studies that claimed to put the matter to rest. Their primary messages, which directly conflicted with those of outside literature, were that repeated concussions had no long-term neurocognitive consequences and that a concussed player — even one knocked unconscious — could, in fact, safely return to a game…

The N.F.L.’s message was heard. The bravado that so many young players wanted to adopt from their N.F.L. heroes — “It’s not dangerous to play through a concussion,” one high school player from Illinois insisted to The New York Times — was now available for download on a scientific journal’s Web site.

“That was a major disservice, and it continues to be an ongoing one in conversations I have with parents and coaches and players,” a team physician for several high schools and colleges in New Jersey, Dr. Gerard Malanga, said in 2007. “It creates confusion when there’s increasing clarity on the subject. They say what I tell them about it not being safe to go back in the same game is totally wrong, and they’re backed by the N.F.L.”

…An outside study tying retired players’ concussions to depression later in life was called “virtually worthless” by an N.F.L. committee member. Amid reports that N.F.L. retirees were increasingly found to have dementia, an N.F.L. spokesman denied any connection to football by saying dementia “affects many elderly people.”

After the deceased lineman Justin Strzelczyk was found to have had C.T.E., Commissioner Roger Goodell said there was no proof the damage resulted from football. Strzelczyk “may have had a concussion swimming,” Goodell said.

The N.F.L.’s denials of outside evidence reached what many considered the absurd in September 2009, when The Times made public a University of Michigan study, commissioned by the N.F.L., that found that retired players of various ages had been found to have dementia at 5 to 19 times the national rate. The N.F.L. immediately distanced itself from the finding, and its committee’s co-chairman Ira Casson said, “What I take from this report is, there’s a need for further studies.”

What ultimately forced the league to change its approach was an embarrassing Congressional hearing during which Goodell struggled to defend the N.F.L.’s behavior. A California representative bluntly told Goodell that his league resembled the tobacco industry.

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11 Comments

  1. Brian Opsahl

    I coached football to kids for over 6 years, in that entire time I only seen one kid have a concussion. I did see some amazing hits over those years. The game is a very violent sport but so is most things we do in life that give us the thrills that go with particapating in things like this. Many,Many mom’s came to me and pulled their kids out and went to what they see as a safer sport, Soccer only thing is I do remember one of those kids breaking his leg after falling weird.

    Everybody is freaking out because a young boy died because of a hit that happens over hunderds of thousands of times everyday in practice and one went terribly bad.

  2. I haven’t let my son play football yet. My biggest issue is he is all 53 pounds and the weight limit for his age is 100 pounds. I’m pretty sure he would be the smallest kid out there. Next year the weight limit goes up to 125 pounds. Maybe someday I’ll let him get out there. He would make a great safety. The kids is fearless. That is part of the problem though. If they did a better job of grouping kids by size and not age I may reconsider. Until then he plays baseball and dances.

    Not sure soccer is a better option for keeping your head safe.

  3. Soccer is as dangerous as snowmobiling. Both are more dangerous than football.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10823540

    CONCLUSION:

    Peak accelerations as measured at the surface of the head were 160 to 180% greater from heading a soccer ball than from routine (noninjurious) impacts during hockey or football, respectively. The effect of cumulative impacts at this level may lead to neurologic sequelae.

  4. Brian Opsahl

    Joe, Some of my best players we’re smaller in size but had that neanderthal gene that is absolute for this game. The look in their eye’s when going after the football is either there or it’s NOT. I remember 4 kids where I went to the mom’s and told them to please keep their son in football…I could positively see these kids had it. Today they are now seniors and all 4 not only start but have a real chance at a scholarship and free ride to pretty good schools.

    Those smaller boys learned to play against bigger guys their entire time until that magic time when they grow like weeds and suddenly they are the same size but far better players…true story.

    Doc, you keep taking shots at my sport but you wont answer my simple questions on the subject you really know nothing about…Why…? enlighten me please.

  5. Brian Opsahl

    Joe, One other important thing I left out.

    As a coach and teacher of the game I was also tasked with building team relationships, by this I mean in the 5th grade we would teach them how they had 24 brothers or on our team we only had 16 kids the first year so they now had 15 brothers looking out for them at school or in the hallways or down the street. The little guys immediately had somebody having there back, and that’s big at that age.
    At half the weight your son will be over matched that’s for sure but if has that Neanderthal gene I’m talking about…let the boy play you will be surprised.

    My only word of caution for you as dad is either get involved with his coaching or go to all his practices and make sure those coaches have the kids BEST interest in mind..if you get what I mean.

    The travel to small towns and relationships built with those kid’s is priceless. I’m telling you.

  6. I have an older daughter who we are still waiting to grow. She is all of 5 1. I would be shocked if my son reaches 5 5. When you talk about little kids catching up later on I would have to agree. His sister has always played softball. When she was younger she would never strike out but couldn’t hit the ball past the pitcher. When she was 14 years old things changed. All the sudden the little contact hitter was hitting the ball harder then the big girls. Not the most gifted athlete in the area, but has one of the pretties swings. This spring she will be trying to earn a starting spot on the high school baseball team. She played varsity softball her freshman and sophomore year and wants a new challenge. Between you and me I think she will lead the team in hitting.

    I also agree when you talk about traveling town to town is a priceless experience. We have done the same thing with softball the past 4 years. The fun we have had.

    As for the boy he could use the protection of teammates. Poor kid gets picked on non stop. Yesterday his head was slammed into the bus window and they chocked him. He is getting closer to fighting back. He is worried about getting in trouble. I have told him he isn’t going to have a problem with me if he fights back. I explained they wont stop till he makes them stop. One of these days he is going to snap and these kids are in trouble. I just told him don’t stop till the bus driver pulls you off him. And the second you can get away you jump back on that kid. I hate bullies.

  7. Brian Opsahl

    Couldn’t agree more Joe.

    Take your daughter to the indoor batting cages as often as possible…a sweet swing is better than anything else when it comes to hitting…also if she is fast teach her the art of bunting the picthers can be overwelming at that age and a good bunter gets on base all the time…

    Bullies suck and small kids are always there targets…but an entire team of football buddys will put an end to that…at least the ones I coached did..good luck Joe.

  8. Not the biggest fan of the cages. We go once a week maybe. I’m all about tee work. Tee work is where you tune that swing. Right now she takes 100 swings a day. Then we do a lot of front toss. She is a great bunter. I have her bunt whiffle golf balls with a broom handle. Can bunt from either side. Bunting is a lost art. Most kids don’t even like to practice it. The teams I have coached are always good bunting teams. If you can’t bunt how are you going to swing and hit the ball? I have had some parents get upset that I have their kids bunt so much, but they never stay mad because by the end of the year my teams are stacked with good hitters. What she likes to do is show bunt to bring the corners in. Once they cheat in she is looking to drive it. Now if a 3rd basemen stays back on her she will lay it down, but she is usually the one they count on to drive in the runs. She will also fake a bunt, pull back and swing away. That is the one I like. Nothing better then watching her show bunt and then bounce the ball off the fence. Plus you can really mess with the fielders heads doing this. All the sudden they dont want to charge when you turn and show bunt.

    I have no idea what she will be do in baseball. I’m expecting her to be super aggressive on the first pitch. We expect that the boys will try to blow fast balls by her. That isn’t going to work though. Best boys in the area are only hitting 80 – 85. She will be able to tear that up. What I expect her to struggle with is curve balls. The baseball will break a lot more then a softball. She has been taught to lay off the junk though. She smart enough to work the count and knows what counts to expect a fastball. We call it hunting for fastballs.

    And yes bullies do suck. I can see why little people are so angry now. I would love nothing more then to have a talk with a few of these kids dads, but sometimes you have to sit back and let nature take its course. It may not be this year but at some point he will step up and deal with the problem. The crazy thing is we have talked to the school about it and they told us only so much they can do. I told them then I will show him how to defend himself. The teacher said she understands and that may be a wise thing to do.

    Where has pat gone to? I sure hope everything is ok.

  9. Brian Opsahl

    Joe, you sound like you know exactly what your doing …love the bunt from both sides kids that can do that will bat at the top of any line-up.
    My son struggled with bat speed so I made him hit in the major league cages for over 2 weeks…6th grade. He hated me for doing this as at first he struggled mightly but by the end of week two all his little sigles turned into double and triples…then the confidence came back and he was one of our best hitters by years end…all the dads kept asking me what the heck I did to him…

    Have fun Joe…dan I miss that

  10. I have done some time as a hitting coach along with coaching travel ball. Some people are good at numbers. I’m good at teaching softball. I’m a lucky man. I have 2 more young ones that are all about playing ball. While my boy is tiny my youngest daughter is a beast. She is 6 and her hands are almost as big as mine and she wears the same size shoe has her 17 year old sister. She got all the size the other 2 lack. She has watched her older sister practice and practice and of course wants to be just like her. She has no problem going outside and hitting off the tee. All she wants to do is practice. She keeps growing she has a chance to be a stud. Her sister is looking at some smaller colleges. My guess is she plays some D3 ball. Not the Alabama that she dreamed about but she is better then I ever thought she would be. Not bad for a kid that I had to beg to give softball a try.

  11. Brian Opsahl

    Joe, I pitched fast pitch for over 15 years best knukleball this side of the mississippi…my opinion. Have a blast they grow up to fast..

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