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The NFL Grudgingly Confronts Head Injuries

One of the biggest, wealthiest, and most powerful institutions in the United States is the National Football League. A billion dollar corporate entity does not move or adjust to realities quickly, especially if those realities present embarrassing dilemmas. The issue of concussions and their effects is such a dilemma for the NFL. In light of many recent studies, including one at the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE), the NFL has relented to display posters on concussions and on post-concussion syndrome. These posters will contain explicit language that any fair observer will say had always been resisted by the NFL. It is a good thing because the evidence is mounting.

In one particularly tragic case, the Boston University School of Medicine, a leader in this field, references a University of Pennsylvania lineman who was found dead in his apartment after hanging himself. The autopsy revealed mild CTE, described as an Alzheimer’s type of brain disease. But what was especially surprising is that this player had never been diagnosed with a concussion. This brings to mind several head injury cases that I have had. Fortunately, the results are not as drastic. But what resonates with me is that so often in the head injury field, the insurer will argue that the plaintiff could not have a head injury since he/she did not sustain a concussion. Not the case.

Leaving aside arguments by insurance companies, there is now wide-spread societal acceptance that head injuries are very real and carry with them major risks. In sports, or even in accident law, orthopedic injuries are a known phenomenon and tracked. What baffles me, and certainly baffles researchers in this field, is the fact that in sports there have been guidelines to protect elbows and shoulders but until very recently nothing to protect brains.

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