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It has been a year since the suicide death of the much revered Chicago Bears football player Dave Duerson. Dave Duerson’s family are now suing the National Football League on the grounds that the NFL had known for an extended period of time that concussions cause brain damage and that they should have informed Duerson of the damage that successive brain trauma could do to him.

According to the lawsuit, Duerson “sustained at least three concussions during his 11-year playing career and suffered from progressive, advanced brain damage known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, according to the lawsuit.”[1][1] The lawsuit also claimed that the NFL had been aware for decades that concussions due to playing football caused brain damage but that the league purposely kept that information from football players, coaches and fans.

An additional claim of the lawsuit is that had the NFL taken the required measures “to oversee and protect Dave Duerson by warning him of the dangers of head traumas,” then (he) “would not have suffered dangerous repetitive head trauma, would have recovered more rapidly, and would not have sustained permanent damage to his brain which contributed to his death.”[2][2] Riddell, the helmet maker which provides helmets to many of the NFL players, is also named in the suit as having failed to warn players that the helmets did not prevent concussions.

The Duerson suit is the most recent in a string of suits against the NFL and helmet makers filed in the past six months. Several suits claim that the NFL “hid information about the harmful effects to the brain from repeated hits to the head.”[3][3] The NFL maintains that it continues to take the safety of its players seriously.

While one concussion can be bad enough, it is the repetitive nature of the head trauma suffered by NFL players that appears to be the big problem, past and present. In the past, football fans would probably agree that it was common for a player to "get his bell rung", be given some smelling salt, and thrown back into the mix. Indeed, it was a badge of honor for the player to get back into the action. And this is what was likely most harmful to the players, then and now, and this is why in today's game the NFL is attempting to let the player's brain trauma "heal" before allowing the risk of contact again. What the NFL knew and when it knew it is going to be the interesting part of what is uncovered in these lawsuits, once the players' attorneys are able to uncover documents in the NFL's possession. The risks of concussions and repetitive brain trauma is not exactly brand new science, so the future of this litigation will be interesting.

[1][1] “Family of Former Bear Dave Duerson Sues NFL Over Suicide”, Lighty, Todd, Chicago Tribune, February 23, 2012.

[2][2] Op. Cit.

[3][3] Ibid.

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