The NFL settled its concussion lawsuit, but the concussions in football won’t stop. Some former players who are hurting will get some needed help quickly, but the line of hurting players won’t stop.
It is endless. So there is something else that is endless, and won’t stop, too: The lawsuits.
Three former college players have now filed suit against the NCAA for what they say was negligence in protecting them from concussions.
The NFL suit was just a starting point, a warmup act. And these three former college players — Chris Walker and Ben Martin, who played for Tennessee from 2007-2011, and Dan Ahern, who played for North Carolina State in the 1970s — figure to be just the beginning of this class-action suit, too.
Can this suit grow and grow like the NFL suit, with hundreds joining in? Thousands?
“Yes,’’ said Michael Hausfeld, the attorney who filed the suit. “It’s far larger than the NFL case, because the NFL, at best right now, has 24,000 retirees. (It has) 32 teams, 50 players apiece. The NCAA has over 300 teams with (up to) 85 (scholarship) players apiece.
“The orders of magnitude are greater. It’s a population that’s been totally ignored.’’
Now, there’s no way of knowing how big this case really will get. There has already been another case, too, that didn’t grow, or hasn’t yet.
And when I asked the NCAA for a comment on the latest suit, it sent an email from chief legal officer Donald Remy: “We have not been served with this Complaint. We will review and evaluate it.
“It appears that is has been filed by one of the same law firms that appears in many other cases. It is not unusual to see this action from plaintiff’s attorneys trying to secure a lead position in litigation of similar cases.’’
That seems like an accusation of some sort. Hausfeld also is the lead attorney in the Ed O’Bannon suit against the NCAA. And when multiple attorneys start fighting in multiple cases, it can get confusing.
But the truth is that we’re just getting started on concussion lawsuits against football. In several cases across the country, high-school players already have been winning settlements against their schools.
Some sort of class action against high schools can’t be too far behind. And when it comes to high schools, or maybe even youth leagues, you wonder about their future if they’re considered liable for head injuries. Where will they get the money to pay? Will they still be able to get insurance?
That’s a long way, and a lot of lawsuits, ahead. But those suits are coming.
This one is on the NCAA, which Hausfeld says has been like an ostrich, with its head in the sand on the concussion issue.
“These players are not employees, have no union, no collective-bargaining agreement …’’ he said. “Football is a good game, and it can be played more safely.
“You can’t engage in any athletic activity without risk of some injury. But you can minimize injury, and respond to treating and monitoring injury. That’s where the NCAA has failed.’’
The NCAA hired a neurologist in January as its first chief medical officer. For now, though, it hasn’t gone the same route as the NFL, with a specific national concussion test. The NCAA rulebook describes a loose protocol that says, basically: If a player is suspected of having suffered a concussion, he should come out of the game, see a medical professional on the sideline and not go back into the game until that professional says it’s OK.
Meanwhile, though, the Chronicle of Higher Education released a study this week of 101 major college-football trainers. And 42 of them said coaches have pressured them to return players to the field after they have suffered a concussion, while 32 said a member of the football staff had power over whether they were hired or fired.
It will all be argued out in court. Again and again.
I’d say this can’t end well for football, but maybe it’s worse than that. Maybe it just can’t end at all.