CNN: Head-trauma lawsuits against NFL grow into hundreds

Posted on November 19, 2019


By David Ariosto, (CNN) ‐‐ A nasty collision during a kickoff in 1997 left Kevin Turner seeing stars.


The former Philadelphia Eagles fullback, who spent eight seasons battering through defensive lines in the National Football League, said the hit left him wondering where he was.


Still, the team’s medical staff looked him over and eventually sent him back out to play, he said.


“The doctor looked in my eyes,” Turner recalled in a statement delivered by his attorney in response to questions from CNN. “He then told me to remember these words, either four or five simple, basic words.”


But the task proved daunting.


“It was the weirdest thing ever and most frustrating because at the time I was clamoring to get back into the game,”  said Turner. “I was  really  trying so hard. And  I  remember it  being just  the most  frustrating thing ever.”


By the second half, he’d remembered.


“I went back in  the game after halftime and played  the rest of the game,” he added in  the statement  to CNN.


A  little  over  a  decade  later,  the  former  Eagle  is  battling  the debilitating  effects  of  amyotrophic  lateral sclerosis, often known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.


He said his doctors have told him that “there’s no cure, you’re going to die within two to 10 years, and get your affairs in order.”


Since the diagnosis, Turner has lost most of the use of his hands and arms. He’s also agreed to submit his brain to scientific study following his death.


Whether Turner’s disease, and those like it, can be linked to the consequences of repeated head trauma is the subject of growing research and the focus of mounting litigation against the NFL.


Turner is one of hundreds of former NFL players and their families currently suing the league for alleged negligence, claiming that it didn’t do enough to mitigate the risks despite what many say is an inherently dangerous sport.


His  attorney,  Stephen  F.  Rosenthal  ‐‐  whose  Miami‐based  firm  represents  137  other  players  and  their families  who’ve  filed  a  class‐action  suit  against  the  league  ‐‐  said  Turner  has  likely  suffered  from undiagnosed concussions. He accused the league of deliberately withholding information deemed critical to player safety.


“At no  time did  the NFL inform Plaintiff Turner  that he risked severe and permanent brain damage by returning  to  play  too  soon  after  sustaining  a  concussion,”  the lawsuit  states.  “The  NFL’s  failure  was  a substantial cause of his current injuries.”


Stars such as former quarterback Jim McMahon, as well as running backs Jamal Lewis and Dorsey Levens, have filed similar lawsuits in states across the country.


Attorneys representing Lewis and Levens accuse the league of having used a “hand‐picked committee of physicians” to misrepresent evidence of the effects of head trauma, particularly concussions.


“We do believe  the NFL knew and had  that available information with  them  for many years now,” said attorney Mike McGlamry.


In response to the allegations, the league denies the claims and released a statement saying it “has long made player safety a priority and continues to take steps to protect players and to advance the science and medical understanding of the management and treatment of concussions.”


“The  NFL  has  never  misled  players  with  respect  to  the  risks  associated  with  playing  football,”  the statement added. “Any suggestion to the contrary has no merit.”A  spokesman  for  the  Philadelphia  Eagles,  regarding  Turner’s  allegations,  referred  CNN  to  the  league’s statement. On  Sunday,  the  NFL  is  expected  to  air  a  multi‐million‐dollar  commercial  during  the  Super  Bowl  that details the history of the league and emphasizes player health and safety.


The league  has in  recent  years  also made  strides  to  strengthen rules  that  govern  on‐the‐field  conduct, while  adding  sideline  medical  staff  ‐‐  unaffiliated  with  the  teams  ‐‐  to  more  independently  evaluate injured players.
In 2005, the league banned the practice of tackling a player by using his shoulder pads, a move commonly referred to as a “horse‐collar” tackle, after concluding it commonly resulted in injury.
It also strengthened a 1979 rule prohibiting players from using their helmets to butt, or “spear” players during a tackle ‐‐ a rule that critics often complained had lacked enforcement.
Players  like  Steelers’  linebacker  James  Harrison  have  since  been  dealt  hefty  and  repeated  fines  for helmet‐first tackles.
Critics,  meanwhile,  say  the  league  should  have  made  the  changes  years  ago  and  have  called  for  more protections.
Part of  the issue, noted a  former Atlanta Falcons linebacker, is a sports culture  that largely encourages behavior out‐of‐step with the recognized risks of head trauma.
It’s exacerbated when coaches, even at  the high school level, say  ” ‘Oh,  you just got  your bell  rung. Get back out  there and play,’ ” noted Coy Wire. That attitude, he added, can contribute  to  the risks of long‐term brain damage.
A recent study conducted at Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy found evidence of a condition called chronic  traumatic encephalopathy  ‐‐ a dementia‐like brain disease  ‐‐ had been found in the brains of 14 of 15 former NFL players. Their cases shared a common thread ‐‐ repeated concussions, sub‐concussive blows to the head, or both, according to the study.
Many  of  those  named  in  the  recent  claims,  meanwhile,  describe  a  range  of  common  symptoms  that include headaches, sleeplessness and dementia. But whether the league can be proven liable for alleged mistreatment  of players, who  often acknowledge  the  risks and likely also  suffered head  trauma during their high school and collegiate years, is expected to be the source of a drawn‐out legal battle involving a growing number of plaintiffs.
Still, family and friends close to the players are often left to deal with the gritty aftermath of day‐to‐day living once the bright lights of prime time fades.
Teresa Foley, the wife of former New York Jets quarterback Glenn Foley, who is named in the class‐action lawsuit, said she’d like to organize a support group.
“We’re all going through the same thing,” said Teresa Foley. “It’d be great for all of us to be able to just sit down and talk together.”

She says her husband, a 41‐year‐old New  Jersey native selected in 1994 by  the  Jets, has  faced bouts of depression and severe memory loss since his retirement from the league more than a decade ago.


“I sent him to the supermarket a couple of months ago with a list of a few things,” said Teresa Foley.  “He went with the list. But he forgot what he had to get, and also forgot that he had a list.”
The former quarterback returned home empty‐handed.
“It’s getting scary,” she said. “We had a conversation last night and he doesn’t even remember it today.
“I just want some place where my husband can go to get help.”
Part of the claim, the former players’ attorneys say, would be used to establish a fund for former players.
Earlier this week, a panel of judges ruled that mounting claims against the league ‐‐ including class‐action lawsuits filed in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Georgia and California ‐‐ will be consolidated in a federal court in Philadelphia.