Why the Eric Dickerson Lawsuit Against the NFL Is Important

Brendan O'HareContributor IMay 22, 2012

UNDATED - Eric Dickerson #29 of the Indianapolis Colts carries the ball up the field during a 1988 NFL season. (Photo by: Allen Steele/Getty Images)
Allen Steele/Getty Images

Eric Dickerson is suing the NFL, which, if he were a different player, probably wouldn't be as a big of a deal, which is just as an odd of a phrase to type as it most likely is to read. Dickerson is the biggest name so far to sue the NFL for not doing enough to prevent long-term injury resulting from concussions, even more so than fellow Hall of Fame members Tony Dorsett or Art Monk.

That alone is the biggest reason for the noteworthiness of this case, obviously; Dickerson and his 13,000-plus career rushing yards have him regularly listed as one of the greatest running backs of all-time. Dickerson is the biggest of all the names to come out and fight back against the governing body that failed to ensure the long-term health of its employees, which could potentially be a disaster for the NFL.

This Dickerson thing could work in one of two ways. It could either result in nothing, a hypothetical future where no former NFL greats are inspired by Dickerson's bold move. Or, it could cause an avalanche of former NFL stars—other Hall of Fame members, even those at Dickerson's level or above—to join in on the lawsuit parade, which, combined, has over 2,200 former players total (there are 15 in Dickerson's case alone). This would be a public relations nightmare (as much as I hate that walking cliche of a phrase, it fits here) for the NFL, unlike any other they've seen to this point. 

The weird thing about these lawsuits is that it is generally the mediocre-average players involved. It's the players who play for a brief period of time in the NFL, then retire after a few years. After all, the average career of these types of players ranges from three to six years, depending on your sources. These aren't the legends of the game, the ones you see in highlight reels and Hall of Fame ceremonies and openings of downtown steak restaurants. Those guys play far longer, but doesn't that make them a higher risk of head injury? It's the repeated minor blows that cause brain damage, not just one cataclysmic event.

A player who plays for 12 years, as Dickerson did, should really be far more likely to be in these lawsuits than the players who regularly are. It truly is a shock that players of Dickerson's caliber aren't involved in these more often, and maybe, this is the push that sets off the chain reaction that the NFL has been dreading. High-profile players damning the brand name and those involved.

It's now become commonplace for the lawsuits against the NFL to be pushed aside by media outlets, and my statement isn't out of cynicism. These lawsuits seemingly happen every day, and it's far easier to say "another lawsuit was brought against the NFL" and move on.

But this Dickerson story is different. If players like him sue the NFL, the issue will force itself into the national spotlight, and once it's there, it won't be able to be moved. That is what makes this Dickerson story so vital to promoting the safety of NFL players, current and retired. It will make something so bizarre—the endless lawsuits of notable employees against one of America's most high-profile companies—the national issue it should be.

As mentioned by myself and others endlessly, the NFL is pussyfooting around the issue of concussions and safety and all that. A Super Bowl ad promoting the future safety of the game? Congrats. A new rule that players need to wear kneepads? Who gives a crap? It's the NFL's attempt to slide around what's really necessary if they do in fact care about their players. It would be less offensive if the NFL didn't pretend like they cared, rather than make petty rules and regulations that avoid the big issue. 

Dickerson's lawsuit could potentially change all this, and the biggest problem the future of the NFL faces might need to finally be addressed if more like-minded individuals of Dickerson's stature come out and sue the NFL.