Senior U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody of Philadelphia will hear the case and decide whether the lawsuits stay in federal court or are “pre-empted” by the collective bargaining agreements. Scores of related lawsuits around the country have been steered to her because she had been assigned the 2011 Easterling suit, the first to be filed.
If Brody sides with the players, she would then rule on some broader issues, which are expected to include hard-fought battles over the science of concussions and brain injuries, along with the players’ claims of fraud and negligence. The cases would then be returned to their home states to resolve individual damage claims, based on each player’s history.
If the NFL prevails, the players must seek individual arbitration awards. But no money is expected to change hands for years while the case plays out. Brody’s ruling, which could take months, is likely to be appealed by the losing side.
Alternatively, she could issue a mixed ruling because of a six-year “gap,” from 1987 to 1993, when there was no collective bargaining agreement in place. The NFL, eager to avoid discovery, has argued that those players were bound by previous contracts or contracts in effect when they later collected pensions.
Similarly, the league had no union contracts in place before 1968, but Anderson and others question whether those players have much of a case, since most of the scientific findings linking concussions to possible brain injuries emerged in the 1990s and later.
Goodell, in his UNC speech, called concussions “a global issue, not just a football issue.”
He said the league has pledged $30 million to the National Institutes of Health for broad-based research on the brain, which he said affects tens of millions of people. And he said the latest players’ contract sets aside another $100 million for research over the next decade.
The latest concussion study at the Boston University School of Medicine, released in January, looked at the donated brains of 85 people who had suffered head trauma in football, hockey, boxing or military combat. The study found 68 had evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease also found in Seau’s brain after the popular player shot himself in May.
“This success comes at a price to the players who make the game great,” Seau’s parents said in their lawsuit, which was consolidated with the other Brody cases last month.