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Dan Marino Joining Concussion Lawsuit Changes Everything

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Mike FreemanNFL National Lead WriterJanuary 11, 2017

If you think NFL players who sued over brain injuries are just a bunch of bitter old men...

If you think they're suing because they're broke...

Or desperate...

Or lazy...

Or don't want to take responsibility for their past decisions...

Please allow me to introduce you to someone. You may have heard of him. His name is Dan Marino.

Marino has joined thousands of players in suing the NFL over concussions. There are dozens of Hall of Famers who are in on it as well, including Eric Dickerson and Tony Dorsett, but with all due respect to stunning talents like Dickerson, an eternal name like Marino's puts this lawsuit into an entirely different stratosphere.

CANTON, OH - AUGUST 7: Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinee Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins thanks fans for coming during the 2005 NFL Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony on August 7, 2005 in Canton, Ohio. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

There is now an increased level of credibility. Marino's name won't be so easy for the skeptics to dismiss. In effect, he has armored the plaintiffs in this case better than they could have ever dreamed.

I spoke to someone close to Marino late Monday night, and that person said there are no indications Marino is desperate for funds. He's not lazy. Never has been. You don't set or hold more than two dozen passing records being a bum. I've also known Marino and interviewed him several times. He never struck me as someone who would file a baseless suit.

What's scary about this is that Marino was never known for concussion problems. Troy Aikman and Steve Young were. Neither has filed against the NFL, but that may be because both have network jobs and are still close to the league. Marino recently lost his analyst position at CBS and may have simply decided now is the time.

But there was one game where he did get a concussion, and it shows how different football was then and now.

It was 1992, and Marino was in a close game against the Seattle Seahawks. Toward the beginning of the fourth quarter, he temporarily left the game with a concussion. He'd return later in the contest to throw the game-winning pass.

"When he came out of the game in the fourth quarter, he wasn't sure where he was," Dolphins coach Don Shula said at the time.

He wasn't sure where he was, yet he went back into the game.

Said then-Dolphins backup quarterback Scott Mitchell of Marino: "He's so tough that you could cut off his legs and he'd still play."

Jeff Glidden/Associated Press

That was the mentality of the sport. You played. No matter what. No legs, no functioning brain? So what. Get your ass in the game.

The players could have said no, but that called your courage into question, even in Marino's case. He had to play no matter what. Now, the decision is taken out of the players' hands. Then, it wasn't. They went back into the game unless everything was broken.

Shula said that Marino was cleared by doctors to play. In today's NFL, Marino would have been forced to sit the remainder of the game. He would have then needed to pass a series of concussion tests to play in the next one.

This is where the concussion lawsuits get interesting, and Marino adding his name only intensifies this entire issue. Did doctors then send players like him back into the game knowing there was the potential for long-term damage to the brains of players? Did they put winning the game over his health?

MIAMI - JANUARY 30:  Former Miami Dolphin quarterback Dan Marino watches the game between the Miami Heat and the Houston Rockets on January 30, 2005 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. The heat defeated the Rockets 104-95.  NOTE TO USER: User ex
Victor Baldizon/Getty Images

Marino says in the lawsuit he suffered from "repetitive, traumatic sub-concussive and/or concussive head impacts." He played for 17 years. Was Marino part of a legion of players who suffered dozens or even hundreds of concussions and never said a word—just played on?

There is speculation that this maneuver is less about Marino and more about lawyers collecting cash (as well as a possible indicator the global suit is close to being approved by federal judge). That adding Marino's name allows lawyers to collect a larger fee award when it's time to divide the pie. That may be true but it's still Marino's name and he allowed it to be used.

Marino isn't some dupe. He wouldn't allow his name to be used unless he believed in the cause.

Marino's previous words about concussions are also being used against him. But a player knowing he might get concussed and fully understanding the lifelong ramifications--or being told what those are--are two different things.

What Marino's name also does is take this issue deeper into mainstream America. Sure, people know Dickerson, but Marino is still a household name. This could bring an entirely new focus to the issue.

"Despite its knowledge of the grave risks that players have been exposed to because of Defendant's gross inaction and/or concealment of safety information," the lawsuit states. "Defendant carelessly failed to take reasonable measures to develop appropriate and necessary steps to alert players to their risks of debilitating long-term illnesses."

Another day, another player sues the NFL over its past.

Only this time, the name is one of the biggest ever, and the concussion issue will never be the same.

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