US concussion challenge could hit here


AMERICAN FOOTBALL LAWSUIT:A LAW SUIT being fought in the US involving the NFL and 75 former professional American football players could have implications for sports in Ireland.

The NFL and sports equipment company Riddell Inc are being sued over allegations that the league and company concealed data about dangers of concussion.

According to the lawsuit filed in California on Tuesday, former NFL stars, including Miami Dolphins receiver Mark Duper, allege league officials knew for more than 75 years concussions posed long-term health risks and didn’t warn players, coaches or trainers.

The players are seeking unspecified damages from the NFL and Riddell, the league’s official helmet maker.

“For decades, defendants have known that multiple blows to the head can lead to long-term brain injury, including memory loss, dementia and depression,” states the 81-page complaint.

The league issued a warning in June of last year that brain injuries from concussions, which result from brain movement within the skull after an impact, “may lead to problems with memory and communication, personality changes, as well as depression and the early onset of dementia.”

According to Greg Aiello, an NFL spokesman, officials plan to “vigorously contest” players’ claims that the league withheld information about health risks tied to concussions.

The former NFL players contend in the suit they suffer from dementia, headaches, lost memories, blurred vision and depression as a result of repeated concussions suffered from bone-jarring hits and tackles.

The players argue the league and Riddell officials should have warned them earlier about the long-term risks of such blows.

Within the last year professional Irish rugby players Bernard Jackman and John Fogarty have both retired from the game due to ongoing issues with concussion, while the International Rugby Board (IRB) last month issued a new “more robust” set of guidelines regarding the recognition and treatment of concussion in players.

Players are not permitted to wear heavily-padded protection, which was being promoted by Australian back Berrick Barnes, who recently took time out of the game because of repeated concussions, but now hopes to play in this summer’s World Cup.

Biomechanics expert Dr Andrew McIntosh completed a study for the IRB and Australian Rules on the effectiveness of headgear in concussion prevention. His report showed the standard headgear approved by the IRB made no difference to concussion rates when compared with players who wore no headgear.

“I was struggling with cognitive tests and had been getting the symptoms for a while so I suppose I was at the high end of things,” Fogarty told The Irish Timeslast month. “When I got knocked out playing for Leinster against Treviso it didn’t take too much at all. It was a fella’s head that glanced off my face.”

A study released earlier this month by a Loyola University of Chicago professor found athletes who play American football showed symptoms of mild brain dysfunction at an earlier age than non-playing peers. In addition, there was more illness among the retired athletes than non-athletes around the same age.

Earlier this month, former Baltimore Colts tight end John Mackey, who was ranked by Sports Illustrated magazine as the third-best player in his position in NFL history, died after being diagnosed with dementia.

Traumatic brain damage was found in autopsies of Andre Waters, a former Philadelphia Eagles defensive back who killed himself in November 2006 at the age of 44, and former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson, who killed himself in February at age 50.

The NFL has taken steps over the last three years to address concussion concerns by restricting helmet-to-helmet contact and fining players for violating those restrictions. Commissioner Roger Goodell told the league’s 32 clubs players with concussion symptoms can’t play or practise until cleared by a neurologist.

The players’ suit alleges the NFL was negligent in failing to warn them and league medical personnel about the long-term health threats tied to concussions. The suit also contends Riddell’s helmets were defective because they didn’t “provide adequate protection” from concussions.

Rugby players are permitted to wear IRB-sanctioned protective head gear which must adhere to strict specifications that they be a maximum one centimetre thick. Barnes had wanted to wear protective headgear similar to that used by amateur boxers, which would protect the temple area and also the back of the head, but it was not allowed under the IRB laws.

The wearing of IRB-approved padded headgear, ie a scrumcap, has been sanctioned on the basis that it should not cause harm or injury to anyone on the field of play.

Duper, a former receiver, “suffered multiple concussions that were improperly diagnosed and treated throughout his 10-year career”, according to the suit.

Mitchell, a kick returner and running back for the Cardinals from 1981 to 1989, contends in the suit that he suffers from “headaches, neck problems, vision problems and occasional confusion” as a result of repeated concussions during his playing days.