Former players from all 32 franchises will announce second- and third-round picks Friday night from the Radio City Music Hall stage at the NFL Draft.
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The league may ultimately be seeing some of those retirees again in the courtroom.
Nine of the team representatives — Larry Centers (Arizona), Tony Casillas (Dallas), Dick Schafrath (Cleveland), Randy Gradishar (Denver), Dave Robinson (Green Bay), Gary Barbaro (Kansas City), Joey Browner (Minnesota), Jeremiah Trotter (Philadelphia) and Isaiah Kacyvenski (Seattle) – are among more than 4,100 former players suing the NFL for head injuries allegedly suffered during their playing days.
Earlier this month, a federal judge heard arguments on whether the class-action lawsuit should be heard in court or litigated through arbitration. A ruling isn’t expected until later this year.
At stake are potentially billions of dollars in damage claims.
By participating in draft proceedings, those nine litigants are welcoming college players into a league they claim was negligent in diagnosing concussions and head trauma during their own playing days.
As potential links between head trauma and post-NFL behavioral problems began drawing mainstream attention in recent years, the NFL has greatly improved detection and treatment protocols as well as on-field rules designed to lessen helmet-to-helmet impact. The league also has launched safety initiatives aimed at youth football players.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told FOXSports.com in an email that teams select their own draft-day representatives to read the names of picks.
“The concussion litigation is a separate matter and not relevant to our celebration of former players at the draft,” Aiello said.
Another team draft-day representative is former New Orleans safety Steve Gleason, who is suffering from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). Research is being conducted to determine whether there is a definitive link between that fatal neurological disease and head trauma suffered from playing football.
Gleason told USA Today in January that he personally wasn’t sure if there is a connection but did say that “current research shows NFL players are more likely to have certain brain diseases.”