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Report: NFL retirement board paid disability for concussions


For years, the NFL’s stance was that there was no substantive link between concussions suffered playing football and long-term brain damage.

But documents uncovered by ESPN investigative reporters Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada in conjunction with PBS’s Frontline show that the league’s retirement board paid at least $2 million in disability benefits to players including former Steelers center Mike Webster upon the conclusion that football was the cause of their injuries.

The West Virginia lawyer who represented Webster called the decision “the proverbial smoking gun,” which could be used against the league by the nearly 4,000 players who have filed concussion lawsuits.

“It’s pretty devastating evidence,” said Bob Fitzsimmons, the co-director of the Brain Injury Research Institute. “If the NFL takes the position that they didn’t know or weren’t armed with evidence that concussions can cause total disability — permanent disability, permanent brain injury — in 1999, that evidence trumps anything they say.”

The league declined comment for the story, but league spokesman Greg Aiello made clear the retirement board is independent, and that its rulings “are not made by the NFL or by the NFL Players Association.”

A decade ago, the league’s stance was firm, as from 2003 to 2009, the league’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee wrote that “no NFL player” experienced chronic brain damage from concussions.

“Professional football players do not sustain frequent repetitive blows to the brain on a regular basis,” members of the league’s committee wrote in a December 2005 paper in the medical journal Neurosurgery.

But the documents uncovered by Fainaru and Fainaru-Wada showed that in 1999, the retirement board ruled that repeated shots to the head left Webster “totally and permanently” disabled, showing signs of dementia then.

“The Retirement Board determined that Mr. Webster’s disability arose while he was an Active Player,” wrote Sarah E. Gaunt, director of the NFL’s retirement plan, in a May 8, 2000 letter to Fitzsimmons. The medical reports, she wrote, “indicate that his disability is the result of head injuries he suffered as a football player with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs.”

Two other players, whose names were redacted from the record, were also paid benefits based on “repetitive trauma to the head or brain from League football activities.”

This report will certainly be seized by the concussion plaintiffs, and more will likely line up behind them.

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14 Responses to “Report: NFL retirement board paid disability for concussions”
  1. nygrwy says: Nov 16, 2012 11:55 AM

    bout time

  2. clownsfan says: Nov 16, 2012 11:58 AM

    KA-CHING. All us fans need to brace ourselves for the pending sweeping increase of price for ANYTHING related to the NFL.

  3. rockthered1286 says: Nov 16, 2012 12:03 PM

    “….the retirement board is independent, and that its rulings “are not made by the NFL or by the NFL Players Association.”
    So if they’re independent from the NFL and the NFLPA, how can the players use this against the NFL?

    Truth be told I don’t think I’d be so bitter and against the suit if 75% of those filing weren’t just doing it for extra money (see Lewis, Jamal) instead of actually devastating injuries.

  4. alewatcher says: Nov 16, 2012 12:29 PM

    “Professional football players do not sustain frequent repetitive blows to the brain on a regular basis,” members of the league’s committee wrote in a December 2005 paper in the medical journal Neurosurgery.


    Say what?

  5. buffalose says: Nov 16, 2012 12:31 PM

    So they are being punished because they compensated players from injury they got during football? So that helps the retired to get money for injuries ?

  6. skoobyfl says: Nov 16, 2012 12:43 PM

    Maybe Travis Henry’s 19 kids have a chance at seeing some money.

  7. tabdanger says: Nov 16, 2012 1:59 PM

    What makes me sick is instead of going after NCAA and Colleges who are just as much at fault everyone is aiming at the NFL. Just because they are the cash cow. College Football is getting away clean, and never even paid players a paycheck. Forget the fake “free education” Most of the guys with a shot at the NFL aren’t there for the education. I bet a lot of the concussion problems started before they got to the NFL.

  8. onebucplace says: Nov 16, 2012 2:00 PM

    I hope some lawyers make some money off, they’re the real victims here having to wait years to get their millions.

  9. sb44champs says: Nov 16, 2012 2:02 PM

    The league started to admit that players could actually get permanent brain injuries in the NFL starting in 2009…
    And yeah, it was just a big gigantic coincidence that the so-called ‘bounty’ investigation started at that same time (2009)… Roger GODell = Pure Evil

  10. hawkforlife says: Nov 16, 2012 2:13 PM

    The scary thing here is not a raise in ticket prices and more if this suit succeeds it’s the fact that football in general could be designated as an unsafe environment workplace. The end of football from the Pros to PeeWee.

  11. xxwhodatxx says: Nov 16, 2012 2:18 PM

    Look who’s engaged in a cover up now…Goodell should suspend himself indefinitely.

  12. blitzthepig says: Nov 16, 2012 2:58 PM

    Why did Al Toon and Merril Hoge retire from the NFL? Did they get career ending payments as well as payments from NFL Retirement Board?

  13. cometkazie says: Nov 16, 2012 4:59 PM

    Sports involve physical risk. So does riding a motorcycle. Society decides which are worth the risk.

    Pro hockey players didn’t wear helmets and goalies didn’t wear face masks. Now they do.

    My pinkie still sticks out at an odd angle thanks to a dislocation playing prep football.

  14. ubummer says: Nov 16, 2012 5:21 PM

    It’s a damn shame. The NFL didn’t have any legal obligation to help those guys but they did because guys like Webster were in such bad shape after the Steelers and their fans abandoned him after years of loyal service. Now the NFL might get punished for doing the right thing when they didn’t have to. No good deed goes unpunished.

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