Craig Morton's Concussion Lawsuit and the Potential Impact on NFL

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 13, 2013

Apr 25, 2013; New York, NY, USA; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell speaks before the 2013 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Attorneys representing former NFL quarterback Craig Morton filed a federal lawsuit this week on the basis that the league failed to protect players from the dangers of repeated hits to the head.

Tom Pelissero of USA Today reports the complaint alleges that the NFL was provided with research of the effects concussions could have on individuals who suffered repeated strikes to the head, but failed to act to improve player safety.

The lawsuit also states that the league took steps through funding and falsifying research that painted a different picture about the worrisome situation:

The 84-page lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in northern California, claims the league had access to medical research on the impact of concussive and sub-concussive hits but "produced industry-funded, biased, and falsified research" that said otherwise.

Although the NFL has been trying to deal with the negative spotlight the concussion issue has placed on the sport in recent years, this lawsuit is going to attract some added attention because it comes after the league reached a settlement with former players.

In August, mediation between the sides led to a $765 million settlement that was meant to compensate those impacted by head injuries as well as to provide further research into the problem.

As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk points out, however, former players are within their rights to opt out of that deal. Morton has decided to take that route and will continue to fight for what he feels is justice, which the report notes could lead to further issues for the NFL.

If enough of them opt out of the settlement and press forward against the league, someone eventually could force the NFL to do that which it surely hopes to avoid ever doing—disclosing what it knew and when it knew it about head injuries.

Morton played in the league for nearly two decades with the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants and Denver Broncos after being the fifth overall pick in the 1965 draft by Dallas.

His lawyer, Jon King, told Daniel Kaplan of the SportsBusiness Journal that progress in connection with the settlement was grinding toward a halt with plenty of questions still remaining, so they felt it was time to pursue a different avenue:

"If and when the NFL ever formally announces the terms of a class action settlement, everyone potentially covered by it would still have the chance to decide whether to opt-out. But to us, it’s still a mystery as to who will be covered, and what they will be offered. Meanwhile, no evidence is being gathered and things are stagnating. So we feel obligated to get moving."

As the Pro Football Talk report notes, if other players decide to follow in Morton's footsteps, the NFL could find itself right back in a battle it was hoping to end with the settlement.

At that point, it might be forced to reveal further information about its knowledge of the connection between head injuries and the league. As noted in the settlement article, the NFL has maintained throughout the process that safety was always a top priority.

The NFL long has denied any wrongdoing and insisted that safety always has been a top priority. But the NFL said Thursday that Commissioner Roger Goodell told pro football's lawyers to "do the right thing for the game and the men who played it."

If further lawsuits lead to investigations that reveal those claims weren't actually the case in the past, it could do serious damage to the league's image and back up the complaints of former players like Morton, who have been forced to live with the effects of head injuries.

So while the Morton lawsuit might seem like just the latest case brought against the NFL in a long line of them in recent years, it could make a major impact depending on how it plays out and if other players follow the approach.