'From the Pressbox'
By Ernie Palladino
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A story that should have been just as big as the Yankees sweeping the first three Subway Series games or Union Rags' race for the ages after I'll Have Another dropped out of a Triple Crown bid was all but overlooked last week.
Sure, it wasn't as sexy as the Devils becoming the first team in 67 years to force a Game 6 after falling into a 3-0 Stanley Cup final hole. It certainly didn't have the prurient appeal of pretty Debbie Clemens lifting her shirt in her bathroom to let trainer Brian McNamee inject her with HGH while hubby Roger was off on a trip.
But this one is just as important, and perhaps more stunning because of its sheer numbers.
On Thursday, lawyers filed a class action suit in Philadelphia that claims the NFL hid for years the links between on-field concussions and later-life neurological issues. The suit combined 80 separate lawsuits covering a whopping 2,138 former players, and a total plaintiff list of 3,356 players, spouses, relatives, or representatives.
Read that again. Two thousand one hundred and thirty-eight. And those are just the ones who decided to sue. We know there are others out there who suffer the affects in silence or, like Giants Hall-of-Fame linebacker Harry Carson and Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson, advocate for the retired while battling similar issues themselves.
The numbers are stunning, if only because this is one of the first times the problem of post-concussion syndrome among NFL veterans has been quantified. Before these suits were combined, the general public's knowledge extended little beyond tragic, but anecdotal, headlines of a player either dying naturally taking his own life in the heart-rending aftermath of repeated blows to the head.
Andre Waters, Dave Duerson, Ray Easterling, and Junior Seau all made headlines after they took their own lives with a bullet. They brought a certain level of awareness. So did the NFL Alumni Association's pressuring both the league and its players association to include provisions in the new collective bargaining agreement for the inclusion of a fund for the care of retirees.
But not until those lawsuit numbers were combined did we ever get a full scope of the realities surrounding the problem.
That number -- 2,138 -- should turn perceptions of the concussion/irreversible brain damage link from serious to staggering.
It should send a clear message to those who run the league, who own the teams, who pay the players, that far more needs to be done regarding its relationship with those for whom the cheering has long since stopped.
And it should stand as a sign that this problem is not going to go away. As equipment companies come up with better protection in headgear, the league should require players to use it; no exceptions.
The fans who take an understandable delight in watching a James Harrison administer a vicious hit can have a part in this, too. Perhaps a letter or three to commissioner Roger Goodell supporting player safety, or recognizing that one of the old greats they lionized might just be experiencing the depression, forgetfulness, neuro-muscular degeneration, or dementia that emanate from repeated concussions, could go a long way.
These are the guys fans paid to watch. While it is true that nobody put a gun to any player's head to make his living in such a violent way, neither is it fair that they be discarded like some old animal after they have exhausted their entertainment value.
A little compassion from an unlikely source -- the fan base -- might spur the league to take greater care of its only natural resource.
The issue has gone beyond the lawsuits. Whether the league hid information in the past is less important now, though those players should be entitled to compensation. Now that the NFL has recognized, finally, the scientific evidence linking concussions with Alzheimer's, Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS), deep depression, and all the other lasting, issues retired and, undoubtedly, some active players experience, is paramount.
The work and responsibilities of the NFL's $9 billion-and-growing business have really just begun.
The class action numbers drive that home in a way no individual lawsuit or headline can.
Your thoughts on the lawsuit? What should the NFL do to protect its players? Be heard in the comments below...
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