In a classic case of the left hand not knowing what the right did, an investigative report by ESPN, released on Friday, shows that at the same time that the NFL Retirement Board awarded disability payments to three former players for brain injuries, NFL continued to deny any relation between gridiron play to brain damage. The investigation was done jointly by ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” and the “Frontline” show of PBS.
The investigation shows that at least $2 million was paid out to disabled players for their brain injuries, while the NFL’s medical experts continued to deny any link between long-term brain damage and the game as played in NFL. The investigation found at least three recipients, including 1999 disability claim of Hall of Fame center Mike Webster. Webster suffered dementia, amnesia, and depression after retirement. And as early as 1999, the NFL retirement board had determined that repeated blows to the head had made Webster totally and permanently disabled.
However, the NFL has distanced itself by holding that the disability payments awarded by the NFL Retirement Board is a result of a collective bargaining system involving members of the board, NFL, and of NFLPA, and not an exclusive decision of NFL.
Early this year, about 4000 former NFL players have filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania alleging that NFL “propagated its own industry-funded and falsified research to support its position.”
In response, NFL has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and has denied concealing any information about the risks of chronic brain injury. It has also claimed that it has continued updating its policies in step with the developments in concussion research.