Research has drawn links between football players receiving multiple blows to the head and numerous degenerative brain diseases. Due to this research, a class action lawsuit was filed in by thousands of retired professional football players against the NFL, for hiding the risk of brain injuries that comes with playing in the league. An increasing number of NFL players are affected by the league's choice to not disclose the health risks of concussions and repeated blows to the head that come with playing on the professional level. CNN Money stated that the Supreme Court sided with the players, deciding in December, 2016 to not hear an appeal of the case. Any of the men who are found to be eligible for the settlement payments must have retired before July 7, 2014, and may be awarded up to $5 million each. Settlement amounts are based on the number of years played in the NFL, the severity of the player's brain disease, and age. Over 11,000 retired football players expect to receive their portion of the lawsuit settlement this year.
The New York Times reported that two of these claims were recently settled on June 16, 2017 for a combined total of $9 million. Although the two claimants have gone unnamed, one NFL player's wife, Marlene Breasley, spoke of her husband, Terry Breasley, 66, who played for three years under the San Francisco 49ers. Marlene told CNN Money how beneficial the settlement money would be for her family if they are found to be eligible. Due to his years of playing football, Beasley continues to experience the effects of more than 40 concussions from his playing years, and is currently on more than 10 medications. His illness keeps him confined to his bed as he suffers from chronic headaches and short seizures all day.
"He has trouble speaking. Terry gets injections for the pain, but it never goes away. He sleeps for a couple hours when he can until the pain gets so bad that it wakes him up," Marlene said. "It's [the settlement money] going to help us buy the medicines he needs, get the physical help he needs from remodeling our house to make it handicap accessible to having someone with him 24 hours a day."
It’s unfortunate that Beasley and so many other men are suffering from brain injuries caused by playing the sport they love, because according to the Brain Injury Society (BIS), sports are a relatively uncommon source of traumatic brain injury (TBI) among the general population. In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that falls are the number one source of TBIs for the non-professional football playing population of America. The second most common cause for TBIs is unintentional blunt trauma followed by motor vehicle accidents. Still, TBIs are a major cause of death and disability in the US and contribute to 30% of all injury deaths.
People who are diagnosed with a TBI can suffer from a lifetime of effects, such as impaired memory, thinking, movement, sensation, and/or emotional function. Men and people ages 65 and up are more likely to suffer from TBIs than other members of the population, possibly explaining why NFL players are increasingly discovering the consequences of getting paid to hit their bodies against each other. According to CNN Money, there are a few types of degenerative brain diseases that also may be caused by a traumatic brain injury, that also affect how much money each ex-NFL player may be entitled to.
Degenerative Brain Diseases Caused By Traumatic Brain Injury
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)
According to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, CTE is a degenerative brain disease in which "a protein called Tau forms clumps that slowly spread throughout the brain, killing brain cells." The unfortunate thing about this disease is that it can only be detected by autopsy, after a person's death. However, "early symptoms of CTE usually appear in a patient's late 20s or 30s, and affect a patient's mood and behavior. Some common changes seen include impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and paranoia." Relatives of NFL players who lost their loved ones to CTE may receive $4 million dollars from the NFL brain injury class action lawsuit settlement.
Alzheimer's and Dementia
According to the Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's leads to nerve cell death and tissue loss within the brain. This causes the brain to shrink dramatically and affects all of its functions. NFL players who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's may be awarded $3.5 million.
The Alzheimer's Association explains dementia as a general term used to describe a severe decline in mental ability that can effect everyday life. Doctors have a hard time determining the extent of a patient's dementia because it affects every person's brain differently. Players diagnosed with moderate dementia might be awarded $3 million in this settlement while players with early dementia may be awarded around $1.5 million.
Lou Gehrig's Disease/Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
The ALS Association explains that ALS is "a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. A-myo-trophic comes from the Greek language. "A" means no. "Myo" refers to muscle, and "Trophic" means nourishment – "No muscle nourishment." When a muscle has no nourishment, it "atrophies" or wastes away. "Lateral" identifies the areas in a person's spinal cord where portions of the nerve cells that signal and control the muscles are located. As this area degenerates, it leads to scarring or hardening ("sclerosis") in the region."
Though people know about ALS because it was the disease that caused Lou Gehrig to leave his successful baseball career, the degenerative brain disease was still unknown to many in our current generation. However, many people recently became educated on the disease due to very popular, social media "Ice Bucket Challenge," which raised millions of dollars for treatment.
Due to the severity of ALS and the fact that it doesn't have a cure, players who have been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease may receive up to $5 million dollars in compensation from the NFL.
Parkinson’s Disease (PD)
Parkinson's Disease, according to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation, is "a chronic and progressive movement disorder, meaning that its symptoms continue and worsen over time." "Parkinson’s involves the malfunction and death of vital nerve cells in the brain, called neurons. Parkinson's primarily affects neurons in an area of the brain called the substantia nigra. Some of these dying neurons produce dopamine, a chemical that sends messages to the part of the brain that controls movement and coordination. As PD progresses, the amount of dopamine produced in the brain decreases, leaving a person unable to control movement normally." The cause of Parkinson's is currently unknown and there is no cure as of yet. Retired NFL players diagnosed with Parkinson's may receive $3.5 million from the settlement.
Traumatic Brain Injury Symptoms
The CDC lists the following as symptoms for TBIs that people who have sustained a head injury should keep an eye out for. The symptoms typically fall into four categories.
- More emotional
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Sleeping more than usual
- Sleep less than usual
- Trouble falling asleep
- Difficulty thinking clearly
- Feeling slowed down
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty remembering new information
- Fuzzy or blurry vision
- Nausea or vomiting (early on)
- Sensitivity to noise or light
- Balance problems
- Feeling tired, having no energy
While the families of these brain damaged football players might feel relieved that the compensation from the lawsuit might help them cover some medical bills, it is clear that they are more upset with the larger problem. That problem is that brain damage and brain diseases alter a person, sometimes indefinitely, and that these families aren't able to spend the same quality time with their loved ones that they used to. Some ex-NFL players are tied up in dealing with the stresses of medical appointments and medical bills instead of enjoying retirement.
While it's every child's (and some adults') dream to become a sports legend, most professional sports careers don't work out. People are more likely to sustain a head injury in a motor vehicle accident than in a Detroit Lions game! As such, anytime a person is involved in a car accident, or any time someone takes a blow to the head, it is important that they should immediately seek medical attention to rule out a traumatic brain injury.
Traumatic Brain Injuries are serious health issues that should not be ignored or taken lightly. Whether the brain injury was acquired through playing sports, a car accident, or by slip and fall, it is a good idea to err on the side of caution and seek immediate medical attention after taking a hit to the head. As the article shows, experiencing a TBI could cause long-term if not life-altering afflictions and problems for victims. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with a TBI after an auto accident, call The Michigan Law Firm, PLLC at 844.4MI.FIRM for a free consultation with a personal injury lawyer today.