Some things in football are more important than the games themselves. The Super Bowl can go off without a hook. The Dallas Cowboys can be America's Team. However, if players can't live reasonably enjoyable lives in retirement, it isn't worth it. Former Cowboys defensive tackle Michael Myers was the latest to remind people of this on Tuesday.
Myers became the latest player to sue the NFL regarding concussions, according to the Associated Press. Myers' suit alleges negligence, fraud and conspiracy on the part of the NFL. He said that his concussions have caused short-term memory loss, migraine headaches and other ailments.
Myers played just over five of his 10 NFL seasons with the Cowboys. In that time, he played 68 games for the Cowboys, starting 25, while collecting 7.5 sacks and forcing two fumbles. Drafted in the fourth round of the 1998 draft by the Cowboys, Myers played 13 or more games in eight of his 10 seasons.
Numerous other former football players have filed lawsuits recently against the NFL in relation to concussions. In early February, former Cowboys star Tony Dorsett joined a lawsuit with more than 300 other former NFL players against the NFL and helmet manufacturer Riddell.
Dorsett, who ran for more than 12,000 yards in a Cowboys uniform in 11 seasons, said, "I know you paid me to do this, but still yet, I put my life on the line for you and I put my health on the line. And when the time comes, you turn your back on me? That's not right. That's not the American way."
Myers and Others Face Sad Retirement Lives
Former players have suffered tragically due to the effects of concussions. Ben Utecht, who played in Super Bowl XLI with the Indianapolis Colts, said he suffers from memory loss and worries about dementia. Once, when visiting with close friends, he said he wondered why he wasn't at their wedding, but they reminded him that he was there.
Former Chicago Bear Dave Duerson committed suicide in 2011. According to the Chicago Tribune, Duerson's family filed a wrongful death suit against the NFL in a Cook County (Ill.) Circuit Court.
The suit states that Duerson suffered from progressive, advanced brain trauma known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) as a result of concussions suffered in the NFL.
How Does the Legal Situation Look for the NFL?
The NFL plans to fight the lawsuits. As long as it does, the NFL probably faces compensatory damages.
This has been the case in lawsuits against the tobacco companies. In some cases, smokers and their families received awards for punitive damages against the companies only to have them reduced to compensatory or overturned. Compensatory damages are more common than punitive damages.
The NFL has behaved similar to the tobacco companies in the face of charges relating to the health effects of concussions. For a long time, the NFL didn't adequately inform players about the health risks related to concussions or returning to games after suffering concussions.
Also, the NFL had denied the correlation between head and neck injuries and brain damage.
Now that the NFL is confronting the issue, it's doing so in an irresponsible way. According to The Daily, the NFL is looking to insert language in future players' contracts, although the NFL denies the report. Such a move would be a galling step towards corporate impunity by the NFL. However shrewd it would be, the NFL would be cold towards safety.
While the issue is being legislated and addressed by the NFL mostly in a responsible way, teams still struggle at times dealing with head and neck injuries. The case of Colt McCoy being sent back after being knocked out with a concussion is a prime example.
If the NFL isn't careful—and by careful I mean safe, not legally savvy—McCoy, Dielman and others could follow Myers and the rest to form another generation of lawsuits.
In a strictly legal sense, the NFL is in trouble. The NFL could hope to eventually bring the lawsuits to federal appeals courts or the U.S. Supreme Court, where they might receive sympathy from business-friendly judges.
But even they might be swayed if public opinion favors the families of the players.
Conclusion: The NFL Needs To Take These Lawsuits as Lessons Learned
The NFL can't undo what it's done, nor can it apologize publicly to former players and their families, since that would only complicate things legally.
All the NFL can do is take the lawsuits presented by Myers, the Duerson family and others, and learn from them. The NFL must show after the suits that it is an accountable entity when it comes to player safety. While many fans may believe that football is legitimate if its rough nature is held intact, the game is only legitimate if it's safe.
If players can't live normal middle-age lives after retirement then the NFL can't be America's game, the Cowboys can't be America's team, and the Super Bowl can't be America's unofficial holiday.