The number of kids playing peewee football who dream of someday becoming an NFL star is exorbitant, but what sounds like a dream job can quickly become a nightmare. The extent of brain injuries stemming from continual hits to the head is only now being realized. As more attention is being paid to concussions, there are other areas of brain trauma that are slowly coming to light as well. Ongoing head collisions with other players and the ground can add up over time and lead to some disastrous consequences.
Ricky Dixon, who played for the University of Oklahoma, is just one example of hundreds of professional athletes who went from stardom to a vegetative state. Once a hero out on the field, now someone else has to perform the simplest of things for him, like brushing his teeth. He and many other ex-professional football players aren’t fighting the National Football League anymore; they are fighting against the personal injury lawyers who took the players’ share of the settlement for their own.
More than a dozen other NFL ex-players, along with their families, are no longer targeting the NFL, since the league paid what they owed. They are going after the attorneys who were so valiantly working for them, with their own team of brain injury lawyers. Now up to the judges to decide are the legal fees that need to be paid by hundreds of players’ families, billed by those who represented them in their personal injury cases. The settlement was reached — over one billion dollars to be paid to over 20,000 players over the span of sixty years — but it will likely be held up in court while decisions are made as to who gets what.
Disputes over the fees billed aren’t that uncommon when you are dealing with such high dollar amounts and high-profile class-action cases, but in this case, the ones who lose out the most are the ones that the money was supposed to help immediately. Those who are suffering don’t have time to wait for the money to be properly distributed; they need the money and the help now. Although the risk of injury was once considered just part of the chances a player took when on the field, the mounting evidence that concussions are at the root of many of those injuries is starting to be seen earlier and with more drastic effects than ever before.
When George Andrie started with the Cowboys in 1962, football was just thought of as a “manly” sport. When you got injured, you got injured; that was just the way it was. Andrie was a member of the Doomsday Defense, and was one of the Dallas players that put the Cowboys in the spotlight. Yet he never earned more than $35,000, and after retiring sold cups and other custom items to get by. Over time, Andrie started to exhibit unexplained symptoms. He became angered easily, depressed, and he had to make small notes for himself to remember the most mundane things.
What scientists have finally concluded is that playing football, especially at the collegiate and pro levels, is highly linked to permanent brain damage. One of the largest studies done recently showed that as many as 40% of the brains that they examined from former players had significant signs of cerebral brain damage.
Players started to make personal injury claims against the NFL in 2011, alleging that the league never notified them of the risks of brain injury. The lawyers knew that this could be proven in court, so they didn’t ask for anything upfront; they worked, as most do, on a contingency basis.
Eventually, all the players decided to join forces and wage a class-action lawsuit against the NFL, and the NFL agreed to a settlement in 2015. Each player was to be awarded an amount depending on both their diagnosis and age. The court-appointed lawyers had the job of assessing both brain trauma symptoms and the likelihood that someone might develop brain injury in the future. Although they were paid $112.5 million by the NFL, the court-appointed attorneys now believe that they should be entitled to some of the settlement for each player that they have to analyze.
In large class-action suits, it is typical for companies to pay out huge amounts on personal injury cases. The misfortune is that although it seems like a large amount of money, the people that often aren’t compensated the way they should be are the people who are injured. It is devastating to think that the ex-players who are suffering so terribly will get less than those who said they were defending them. It is in the hands of the courts now to see who paid their dues more.