NFL Retirement Board Claims Sport Caused Brain Injuries of 3 Players
New York, NY
The NFL's retirement board has awarded at least $2 million in disability benefits to Hall of Fame center Mike Webster and two other players after deciding that football caused their crippling brain injuries.
According to documents obtained by ESPN and PBS, the board shelled out the amount to the players in the late 1990 and 2000. Webster was the only one mentioned while the documents of the other two players were stamped "confidential."
The documents said the NFL retirement board determined in 1999 that repeated blows to the head had left Webster, who spent most of his 17-year career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, "totally and permanently" disabled.
Webster, who died at age 50 in 2002, was the first NFL player to be diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease that has since been found in more than a dozen deceased NFL players.
The board's conclusion that Webster and other players suffered brain damage from playing in the NFL could be used as evidence in the lawsuit filed by nearly 4,000 former players against the league.
The players alleged that the NFL denied the risks of long-term brain damage and propagated its own industry-funded and falsified research to support its position.
Lawyer Bob Fitzsimmons, represented Webster in his disability case and is co-director of the Brain Injury Research Institute, called the retirement board's conclusions as "the proverbial smoking gun."
"It's pretty devastating evidence," said Fitzsimmons, who is not part of the lawsuit against the NFL. "If the NFL takes the position that they didn't know or weren't armed with evidence that concussions can cause total disability -- permanent disability, permanent brain injury -- in 1999, that evidence trumps anything they say."
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello refused to comment on the report but emphasized that the retirement board is independent, and that its decisions are not made by the NFL or by the NFL Players Association.
The seven-member NFL retirement board is composed of three owner representatives, three player representatives, and a non-voting representative of the NFL commissioner. Among its duties is deciding individual disability claims.
The NFL has constantly denied that it concealed information about the risks of chronic brain injury, adding that it has updated its policies as concussion research has evolved over the past two decades.
In December 2009, the league first acknowledged that repeated concussions could lead to long-term mental impairment.
Jason Luckasevic, who represents some of the first players to sue the NFL over the concussion issue, said it was hypocritical for the NFL to award disability benefits based on football-related brain damage while, at the same time, denying there was a link to the sport.
"That's completely fraudulent -- you say these people have cognitive problems from playing football and award them benefits, and yet you lie and write studies telling the public that's not the case," said Luckasevic. "I don't know that it gets more despicable than that."
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