The issue of concussions is at the heart of another fight between a former NFL player and the league.
Former Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer is battling the NFL and the Bears for $900,000 he believes he’s owed after the team released him in 2011. Doctors, including the independent neurological consultant for the Bears, recommended Hillenmeyer retire after suffering several concussions and the Bears let him go one month later. Hillenmeyer had a contract worth $1.8 million for the 2011 season and he and the NFLPA think the CBA mandates that he receive half that amount.
Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune reports that Article 45 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement seems to cover just this scenario. It calls for players to receive half their base salary, up to $1 million, if they have “been physically unable, because of a severe football injury in an NFL game or practice, to participate in all or part of his club’s last game of the season of injury.” Hillenmeyer was on injured reserve as a result of a concussion at the end of the 2010 season, but his claim for half his salary was denied.
“It makes me sick to see (the league) claim it is driving concussion research and putting player safety first,” Hillenmeyer told Biggs. “The whole system is designed to do one thing: make owners money. The fact that a case as black and white as mine can’t even get resolved is indicative of a much, much deeper truth. Owners know what the game is doing to players, but once they fully acknowledge it, the gig is up.”
The Bears wouldn’t comment and Hillenmeyer said he thinks they were following league orders when they denied his claim. The NFLPA recently sent a memo to agents warning them that multiple teams were denying claims of this nature because “the NFL has taken the position that once the player’s current symptoms dissipate and once his scores on cognitive tests have returned to baseline, he can be released with no obligation on the part of the club to pay his continued salary or Injury Protection payments.” Citing lawyer’s orders, Hillenmeyer wouldn’t discuss any concussion symptoms he’s still experiencing but history has told us that they have a habit of lingering long after the player has stopped playing.
Whether or not that’s true in this case is unknown, but with ongoing litigation on several fronts you can be sure the concussion issue isn’t going away any time soon.