PHILADELPHIA (AP) — With perhaps billions of dollars at stake, a hearing Tuesday over concussion litigation filed against the NFL promises to be a contest between legal lions.
About 4,200 former players have sued the league. Some suffer from dementia, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological problems. Others simply want their health monitored.
And a small number, including Ray Easterling and 12-time Pro Bowler Junior Seau, committed suicide after long downward spirals.
The players’ lawyers accuse the NFL of promoting violence in the game and concealing known cognitive risks from concussions and other blows to the head. They hope to keep the litigation in federal court so they can use the discovery process to access NFL files — and see what the league knew when.
“The NFL failed to live up to its responsibility: it negligently heightened players’ exposure to repeated head trauma and fraudulently concealed the chronic brain injuries that resulted,” the players’ lawyers wrote in their latest brief, filed in January.
The NFL, with $9.2 billion in annual revenues, argues that the complaints belong in arbitration under terms of the collective bargaining agreement. The league insists it has always followed the best available science and made player safety a top priority.
“The rule in our league is simple: Medical decisions override everything else,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a speech last month at the University of North Carolina.
The NFL will be represented Tuesday by Paul Clement, a former U.S. solicitor general under President George W. Bush who has fought gay marriage, gun-control measures and President Barack Obama’s state health care mandates before the Supreme Court.
Players’ lawyer David Frederick, an Obama ally, has taken consumer protection fights over investor fees and prescription drug warnings to the high court.
“They spend most of their time, Paul Clement and David Frederick, at the Supreme Court,” said Paul Anderson, a Missouri lawyer who tracks the NFL litigation on his website, nflconcussionlitigation.com. “This is really a multibillion-dollar issue. That’s why both parties went out and hired the best of the best.”