The Players Vs. The NFL

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    Harry Carson   Linebacker, New York Giants (1976-88)

    Harry Carson is a Hall of Fame linebacker who played for the New York Giants from 1976-1988. Here, he discusses why he regrets ever having played football. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted with FRONTLINE’s Michael Kirk on Sept. 4, 2013.

    Talk to me a little bit about the players that signed up for the lawsuit. Who were they? What was happening to them? What were they looking for?

    The players who signed up for the lawsuit, I think in a way they were looking to protect themselves. Some of them probably have not had symptoms, but because of the issue of concussions and those other ailments that sort of come along with concussions -- dementia, Alzheimer's and Lou Gehrig's disease -- I think some of those guys were trying to protect themselves. Now, there are other players who are really in the beginning stages of feeling that there is a problem going on with them. And some of those players I've spoken to directly and I encouraged them to sign up and be a part of the concussion lawsuit because if I called names, you would know these names immediately and you would know that their exit from the league was attributed to concussions.

    ... Some of these guys are deathly afraid of speaking in public, speaking with groups, for fear of losing their train of thought, not being able to focus, dealing with depression, dealing with anger issues, just being a little bit more forgetful. And they're in their 40s and 50s now, so many of these guys are dealing with the beginning stages of perhaps having to tap into whatever funding the NFL has provided.

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    Harry Carson   Linebacker, New York Giants (1976-88)

    Harry Carson is a Hall of Fame linebacker who played for the New York Giants from 1976-1988. Here, he discusses why he regrets ever having played football. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted with FRONTLINE’s Michael Kirk on Sept. 4, 2013.

    How did they feel about the NFL? Did they feel they had been done right by, or were they angry about the NFL? I'm trying to get a sense.

    I think typically, most players feel like they've been shafted by the NFL in some way because if you look at many of the players when they're dealing with their injuries, many of them have had to go to California to get some kind of settlement to deal with the injuries that they’ve sustained. They've not been able to get any kind of relief in their state, whether it's New Jersey or New York. And so, they feel frustrated and they feel like -- I don't want to say necessarily that the NFL turned its back on them, but I think they feel that the NFL could be doing a much better job of helping them with some of the problems that they're dealing with.

    That was the reason why, when I was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I used the first part of my speech to basically put the league and also the Players Association -- just put it out there and put it on the carpet, because whatever the players were saying, they were being ignored. Someone had to say it, so I took it upon myself to say what needed to be said for the rank-and-file players out there who needed help.

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    A League In Denial?

    Lisa McHale   She was shocked when her husband, who had never had a concussion, was diagnosed with CTE.

    McHale’s husband Tom, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneers lineman, was the sixth former NFL player to be diagnosed with CTE. Here, she describes her shock at the diagnosis, particularly since she had never known Tom to be diagnosed with a concussion. McHale now works as director of family relations at the Sports Legacy Institute. She spoke to FRONTLINE’s Jim Gilmore on May 21, 2013.

    The legal cases that are going on right now, are you a member? Why did your family become plaintiffs in this case? ...

    I think the NFL does have to be held accountable for their role in this, for their initial reaction for all of this, for their failure to act responsibly when the science was indicating a problem.

    I think they exacerbated the problem terribly by, while they were being warned of certain things, glorifying the big hits. ...

    I think it's irresponsible, I think it's wrong, and I think there's so much more that they need to be dong in terms of protecting younger kids. And then they need to be taking care of the athletes who will have been affected, because of the athletes' ignorance to the risks they were taking in playing. ...

    The NFL still says in 2009 they did come out and sort of say there does seem to be long-term consequences to concussions. But they still maintain that there is not enough evidence to prove that CTE has any connection to football. When you hear that, does it drive you nuts?

    Well, you know, I'd be interested in knowing what they think causes -- you know, getting these guys together and finding another correlation that correlates highly with these guys and not with everybody else than football.

    Yeah, the fact that they can continue to say that to me seems asinine. I think even most reasonable individuals will say, "OK, apparently, it caused it in these individuals, but they might want to make the case, well, for whatever reason, these guys were much more susceptible and that maybe all the other players don't have the same level of risk."

    Honestly, I hope to God they're right. But I think we are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in this. I don't think people have any concept how many people are out there struggling. ...

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    Related topics:
    The Future of Football

    Leigh Steinberg   Former NFL agent

    The inspiration for the movie character “Jerry Maguire,” Leigh Steinberg is a former sports agent who once represented NFL stars such as Troy Aikman and Steve Young. In the 1990s, he organized conferences to educate his clients about the risks of concussions. He spoke to FRONTLINE’s Jim Gilmore on March 29, 2013.

    There are now over 4,000 cases where players are bringing suits against the NFL and Riddell [helmet manufacturer]. What does it say to you now that we've come to this part? What's going on?

    I think it poses real financial threat or challenge to the future of football. I love football. I think it has character-building aspects that are difficult to achieve in other ways outside of war. It's got the ability to teach self-discipline, working hard now for future success, teamwork. It builds camaraderie, courage under pressure, all sorts of great values. I wasn't able to stop my kids from playing with everything I know, my two sons from playing high school football. I love it. It's paid for my lifestyle indirectly.

    But these are proximate threats -- the lawsuits and parents prohibiting their children from playing football -- to the future of the sport. The lawsuits will go back to what the NFL knew and when it knew it and what it told the players, because to accept the risk, the players had to know of the risk. But that's an awful lot of liability. It's not just what that financial award would cost if liability is found; it's the future insurance cost and the future liability cost, and what's necessary if there's real information and disclosure as to what the risks are, how much dissuading that does of people to play.

    Now, it's not like people don't understand that boxing has a long-term dangerous effect. There's still people that box because it's their way out of economic hardship, but it changes the way that a parent may look at their child's involvement. ...

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    Harry Carson   Linebacker, New York Giants (1976-88)

    Harry Carson is a Hall of Fame linebacker who played for the New York Giants from 1976-1988. Here, he discusses why he regrets ever having played football. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted with FRONTLINE’s Michael Kirk on Sept. 4, 2013.

    One of the things that a lot of people said the players had when they went into the negotiation with the NFL around the lawsuit was they had the potential gun that said, "You guys might have to testify in open court about what you knew and when you knew it about the concussion crisis going all the way back to '94." How strongly did players feel that they wanted to know what the league knew and when it knew it?

    I don't know if many players felt that strongly about dragging the league out on the carpet. I think that they wanted to be a part of the lawsuit to make people notice that there's an issue here that really needs to be addressed. I think everyone felt that there was going to be some type of settlement and it would probably not go to trial. But it would be some kind of settlement. ...

    My issue has always been not necessarily with the league, but just in telling my truth, and that is, I played football, and I sustained a number of concussions when I played, and I gave out a lot of concussions. And I knew that if I was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome, and I knew something was going on, if I was diagnosed with that, there were probably a lot of other players diagnosed with the same thing.

    And so for me, it's more imperative for me to get the message out there to players that they're not going crazy, that they're dealing with something that could be manageable. And it's a result of having played the game. Now, when you sustain the concussion, was it when you played in the NFL? Was it when you played in college? Was it when you played in high school? Was it when you played Pop Warner football? At some point, on all of those levels, you've been concussed at one time or another. And so what brings on the post concussion syndrome? Is it hits that you took when you were a little kid, or hits that you took when you were in high school, or college or in the NFL?

    And quite frankly I can't judge when I sustained the damage, but I knew that there was some damage that's there that I don't necessarily have to wait until I pass away and donate my brains to some scientific organization. I know what the deal is with me.

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    Steve Young   Quarterback, San Francisco 49ers (1987-99)

    Steve Young played quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers and suffered seven concussions before retiring in 1999. A Hall of Fame quarterback, Young told FRONTLINE he worries about the toll that routine head hits are taking on linemen and running backs. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted with FRONTLINE’s Jim Gilmore on March 27, 2013.

    Just a couple other things. The lawsuits that are out there -- so you've got 4,000, over 4,000 lawsuits from former NFL players suing the league. How big a deal is that? I mean, that sounds like a big deal. What's your attitude about it?

    I think it shows the level of concern that people have. First of all, their own experience tells them that, "Holy cow, this is not what I thought I was getting into," and especially with guys that are suffering and aging, and I think there is just that concern, because I see guys now that had four surgeries on their knee, and their knee is giving out, and it's got a lot of swelling and arthritis, and they're having a tough time getting around.

    And we all look at it like, "Well, we understand that. We don't like it. We don't wish it hadn't happened." But it's rationalized, you know what I mean? And with head injuries it's not. And I think that science is not getting better, but science is not rationalized around it: "We know exactly what's going on in the brain." I think that's the hard part for players, and they're looking for answers, and I can understand why.

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    Related topics:
    The Future of Football

    Steve Young   Quarterback, San Francisco 49ers (1987-99)

    Steve Young played quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers and suffered seven concussions before retiring in 1999. A Hall of Fame quarterback, Young told FRONTLINE he worries about the toll that routine head hits are taking on linemen and running backs. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted with FRONTLINE’s Jim Gilmore on March 27, 2013.

    ...So what are the ramifications to the game? The lawsuits, the further science coming out -- what are we looking toward here?

    Tough to change the game. I know that people will chuckle if they hear my representation as a gentleman's game, but I think the game can be that way and taught that way and coached that way and played that way. And a lot of really tough, really tough guys have played it that way for a long time. ...

    Could it kill the game?

    I mean, it's going to be difficult, the trajectory of the issues. It really depends on the science. The science is going to probably decide it. ...

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    Steve Young   Quarterback, San Francisco 49ers (1987-99)

    Steve Young played quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers and suffered seven concussions before retiring in 1999. A Hall of Fame quarterback, Young told FRONTLINE he worries about the toll that routine head hits are taking on linemen and running backs. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted with FRONTLINE’s Jim Gilmore on March 27, 2013.

    As more cases came out, [Terry] Long and [Andre] Waters, and then the list started growing longer, and though the NFL was sort of fighting these scientific facts, when does it become apparent that, "Wait a minute, there is something going on here"? Do you guys have discussions among yourselves? And is there a feeling about the NFL that, "Maybe the NFL didn't tell us some of the risk, more of the risk"?

    No. My personal experience is that -- and really you have a relationship with the league, but it's a more distant relationship. You have an intimate relationship with your team, and that starts with the owner, and that's the cocoon that you live in; that's the spot.

    So my experience in that with my team is that they were, to my memory, overly concerned, overly careful. "What experts can we get? What can we do that could possibly help?" And their over-concern in some ways kind of in my mind prevented from kind of having a rational discussion around it, but that -- I'm grateful for it.

    And now that I'm 51 years old, I'm like, "Wow, that's great." Now, other guys can play for other teams and have completely different experiences, but I had a feeling from my team that we were working through this together.

    But above all that --

    That's what I'm saying. ... You look at the league -- and I've said this many times: If the league is culpable, then they should be held to it.

    I can't imagine how that's possible with what little we knew, what little my neurologist knew about concussions and whether you were truly healthy or not or what were the long-term effects. We had long conversations around what does this mean for the future, what are the risks. "Well, Steve, if you rest and get better, all [are] signs that you can go back and play." "Great."

    So to me, my experience is that everyone is kind of watching the cutting edge and trying to stay up with it. I guess people have different opinions. ...

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