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Federal panel ponders merging NFL player concussion lawsuits

The concussion epidemic among athletes is growing, as are the number of lawsuits

While it may not put much of a damper on the furor that’s about to erupt in Indianapolis next week, the National Football League (NFL) has a serious problem on its hands that is likely to get worse before it gets better.

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation will convene today for a hearing on whether to consolidate a spate of lawsuits filed across the country against the NFL by a growing number of players seeking damages for concussions incurred on the gridiron. 

More than 300 former players now have stepped forward, including Ottis Anderson, Mark Duper, Tony Dorsett and Jim McMahon, accusing the league of negligence and misconduct in how it responded to players’ complaints of complications arising from concussions. Conversely, the NFL says that the safety of its players has always been a top priority and denies any wrongdoing.

In one of the first suits filed back in July 2011, the players claimed the NFL “knew as early as the 1920s of the harmful effects on a player's brain of concussions; however, until June of 2010 they concealed these facts from coaches, trainers, players and the public.”

The players also asserted that the NFL authorized a study in 1994 that concluded there was “no evidence of worsening injury or chronic cumulative effects” from multiple concussions. Additionally, the players claimed that the league only warned active players in June 2010 about the risks that come with multiple concussions, and that helmet-maker Riddell, which also was named as a defendant, also neglected to caution the players of concussion dangers until around that same time.

And it’s not just the pros who are lashing out at the governing body. Scores of student-athletes have recently begun filing lawsuits against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) claiming that it profited from athletes while neglecting the serious effects of concussions. 

Specifically, the former athletes allege, among other things, that the NCAA failed to address coaching methodologies that cause head injuries; have not implemented proper head injury screening, detection and treatment practices; and have not developed a support system for concussed former players who can no longer play football or lead normal lives.

While the NCAA didn’t deny the financial component, it did respond to allegations that it doesn’t require its member institutions to educate their athletes about reporting their concussions and related symptoms.

“Each member institution is responsible for protecting the health of its student-athletes,” the NCAA wrote in a December 2011 filing. “… [F]or decades, [the NCAA] has provided appropriate information and guidance on concussions to its member institutions,” and it encourages schools to educate athletes about “symptoms associated with concussions.”

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