The US National Football League (NFL) recently paid US$765 million to settle a lawsuit with former players who claimed repeated head injuries and concussions while playing the sport led to brain degenerative diseases.
The impact of “collision sports” has recently been getting attention in Australia as well and the settlement has interesting implications for local football codes.
In the United States, the NFL overshadows all other professional sports in terms of revenue, average attendance and television ratings.
The US case
In 2012, a class action lawsuit against the NFL was filed on behalf of more than 4,500 former players. You can read the full complaint here
Among the most serious allegations made in the “concussion lawsuit” were that:
- the NFL hid and misrepresented evidence about the long-term neurological effects of football-related head injuries;
- the NFL was aware of the neurological risks of playing football but deliberately failed to warn players; and
After failing to have the lawsuit dismissed, the NFL agreed to settle the case for US$765 million.
An easy settlement
The NFL lawyers probably considered it to be a good price for reducing the cost of fighting the case and risking a much larger payout.
It also means the NFL avoided a forensic examination of its alleged deception.
The players also had good reasons to settle.
If it had proceeded to a jury trial, the players may have received more money but they could also have lost, and received nothing.
At present, we only have several dozen postmortem examinations reporting evidence of trauma-related brain degeneration in some former American footballers – called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
Medical officers from the Australian AFL and NRL have downplayed the implications of these US case studies for their sports. In 2012, for instance, the director of the AFL Medical Officers Association Hugh Seward said:
But, so far, there have been no studies of former players from Australian football codes, even though they have some of the highest rates of concussion in any team sports worldwide.
- the precise nature of CTE and how to diagnose it while players are still alive;
- the risk factors for its occurrence; and
- the prevalence of the condition and other related conditions among football players.
This is crucial information for all contact sports, not just American football.