All concussion lawsuits filed by former NFL players to date curiously omitted the group that was in the best position, in theory, to protect all players from the shell game pro football allegedly was playing regarding the long-term risks of head injuries.
That trend has ended with the filing of a new lawsuit in a Missouri federal court.
The civil complaint, filed by Christian Ballard and Gregory Westbrooks, targets the NFLPA and several past presidents, including Trace Armstrong, Troy Vincent (now the NFL’s executive V.P. of football operations), and Kevin Mawae (pictured).
“It erroneously alleges that the NFLPA knowingly and fraudulently concealed from players the risks of head injuries players faced by playing in NFL games and practices over the last several decades,” the NFLPA said in a statement. “This lawsuit has no merit and we will defend our union and our past Presidents.”
While there’s a chance that the lawsuit, which we have yet to obtain, actually has no merit, ammunition for attacking the NFLPA has existed from the moment the notion of suing over concussions first gained traction with a segment of the country’s population of lawyers. Indeed, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith admitted during testimony to Congress in 2009 that the union had a role in the alleged resistance to efforts of doctors and others to wake football up to the perils of head injuries.
“There is simply no justification for the NFL to have previously ignored or discredited Dr. [Bennet] Omalu and others with relevant, valid research,” Smith said at the time. “For far too long, our former players were left adrift; as I emphasized at the last hearing, we were complicit in the lack of leadership and accountability, but that ends now. I am here again to make it clear that our commitment is unwavering.”
At some point in the infancy of the concussion litigation cottage industry, attorneys made a strategic decision to give the union a pass. But now that the NFL is settling its claims against the former players, at least one law firm sees no reason to continue to ignore the possibility that the NFLPA knew or should have known some of the same things the NFL knew or should have known.
Much of the meat of the concussion lawsuits comes from the alleged efforts of the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee, created in 1994, to conceal and/or to soft-pedal the medicine and science of concussions for nearly a generation. The NFLPA had a seat at the table of the MBTI Committee, which arguably imposed a duty on the NFLPA to disclose the truth, whatever it may have been, to the players.
One of the most glaring flaws contained in League of Denial, that Fainaru-Wada fatwa on football, came from the complete and total omission of the NFL Players Association as having responsibility for the injuries suffered by its members. After two-plus years of lawsuits, someone finally is taking aim at the NFLPA. Whether the effort hits the target will be determined in the coming months and, possibly, years.