Concussion Watch: NFL Head Injuries in Week 20

January 21, 2014
by Jason M. Breslow Digital Editor

The San Francisco 49ers waits for the snap at the line of scrimmage during the NFC Championship game against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014, in Seattle. The Seahawks won the game, 23-17. (AP Photo/Greg Trott)

This year’s Super Bowl will be played between two teams that have combined for 11 of the 152 officially reported concussions in the NFL this season. The Seahawks have reported six. The Broncos have had five.

Those figures — tallied from FRONTLINE’s Concussion Watch project — are not expected to change much, if at all, before the Super Bowl. Between the four teams who played in last weekend’s conference championship games, just one player — Broncos cornerback Tony Carter — was tested for a concussion. On Monday, Broncos Coach John Fox said that the diagnosis was actually a pinched nerve.

Around the League

As the NFL looks toward its most high profile game of the season, the league is likely to face a fresh round of scrutiny over its handling of head injuries.

NFL officials had hoped to put the issue behind them by now. In August, the league agreed to a $765 million settlement with thousands of former players who have filed suit against the NFL for allegedly concealing a link between traumatic brain injury and professional football. Last week, however, that effort hit a roadblock when a federal judge declined to grant preliminary approval to the agreement.

In her decision, U.S. District Judge Anita Brody ruled that the proposed settlement may not go far enough to cover the roughly 20,000 former players who may one day be eligible for payment under the terms of the deal.

“Even if only 10 percent of retired NFL football players eventually receive a qualifying diagnosis,” wrote Brody, “it is difficult to see how the monetary award fund would have the funds available over its lifespan to pay all claimants at these significant award levels.”

After the deal was rebuffed, an attorney representing 1,200 players told ESPN’s Outside the Lines that he will recommend that a “substantial number” of his clients opt out of the settlement. The attorney, Thomas Girardi, said that while the agreement benefits severely impaired players, it leaves many others with barely “a handshake.”

As ESPN reported:

Girardi’s comments are part of what has become an almost open rebellion by some top attorneys against the players’ lead co-counsels, Christopher A. Seeger and Sol H. Weiss. Another attorney, Thomas A. Demetrio, who represents the family of former Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson, told Outside the Lines the two negotiators have operated in a “cloak of secrecy” that has made it impossible for players to evaluate the deal.

A second attorney for the players, Thomas Demetrio, told Patrick Hruby of the website Sports On Earth that the “majority” of players in the suit have yet to see any of the settlement’s supporting analyses. “Two other player attorneys who requested anonymity told me the same thing,” Hruby reported. “One of those attorneys sits on the players’ executive committee, a small group of lawyers overseeing negotiations. He said Girardi was ‘right on.’ He also said that he didn’t think that anyone on the executive committee had seen the analyses — and even more significantly, nobody saw them before the initial agreement with the NFL was reached last fall, either.”

Elsewhere around the league, President Obama told David Remnick of The New Yorker that if he had a son, he would not want him to play in the NFL.

“I would not let my son play pro football,” the president told Remnick. “At this point, there’s a little bit of caveat emptor. These guys, they know what they’re doing. They know what they’re buying into. It is no longer a secret.”

It wasn’t the first time the president voiced weariness about the safety of football. In an interview last year with The New Republic, Obama said:

I’m a big football fan, but I have to tell you if I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play football. And I think that those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence. In some cases, that may make it a little bit less exciting, but it will be a whole lot better for the players, and those of us who are fans maybe won’t have to examine our consciences quite as much.

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