Head Injury in American Gridiron Football – Chronic Traumatic encephalopathy

Duerson’s Son Sues N.F.L. Over Handling of Concussions
By ALAN SCHWARZ
Published: February 23, 2012

A year after the former N.F.L. star Dave Duerson shot himself in the
chest and requested that his brain be used to research the sport’s
long-term risks, his son Tregg sued the league Thursday in state court
in Chicago, contending that the N.F.L.’s handling of Duerson’s
on-field concussions led to his brain damage and ultimate suicide.


Duerson, 50, was an All-Pro safety for the Chicago Bears and two other
teams from 1983 through 1993, winning two Super Bowls. He shot himself
in the chest last Feb. 17 and was subsequently found to have developed
the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive
disorder caused by repeated trauma which can lead to cognitive
dysfunction, depression and lack of impulse control, and has been
found in more than two dozen N.F.L. retirees.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Duerson’s estate, in many ways
resembles the growing number of claims recently filed by hundreds of
retired N.F.L. players who allege that their memory loss, chronic
headaches and other disorders stem from mismanaged concussions during
their playing careers. The players generally contend that the N.F.L.
teams knew, or should have known, as far back as the 1920s that
concussions had long-term consequences, a connection that the N.F.L.
disputed until only recently. The league has consistently countered
that it followed appropriate medical protocol at the time and would
fight the claims.

In an e-mail Thursday, Greg Aiello, the N.F.L.’s spokesman, said that
the league’s lawyers had not seen the lawsuit. He added: “Dave Duerson
was an outstanding football player and citizen who made so many
positive contributions but unfortunately encountered serious personal
challenges later in his life. We sympathize with the Duerson family
and continue to be saddened by this tragedy.”

Like many other lawsuits, Duerson’s also names Riddell, the
manufacturer of the helmet Dave Duerson wore during his N.F.L. career,
as a co-defendant, saying that the company did not warn players that
helmets did not meaningfully protect against concussions. Riddell
officials have disputed that claim as well.

The Duerson suit could stand out for several reasons, however, beyond
the circumstances of his death.

While the many living players currently suing the league cannot
currently prove they have C.T.E. — which can be diagnosed only after
death — Duerson’s family learned last May from researchers at Boston
University that he did have the disease. Whether head impacts that
Duerson sustained in youth football or at Notre Dame contributed to
his condition is unclear.

Tregg Duerson’s complaint said that the N.F.L. misled players for
years as to the long-term consequences of football head trauma. The
league’s concussion research committee, which formed in 1994,
published several papers about 10 years later that denied any lasting
effect of concussions in N.F.L. players.

“As a result of the N.F.L.’s acts and omissions, Dave Duerson
developed C.T.E. and its related symptoms, resulting in his suicide,”
the complaint said. It went on, “Dave Duerson played through the
documented and undocumented concussions and their associated symptoms
because he, like the rest of the N.F.L. players at the time, was not
told of the consequences.”

Another wrinkle in the Duerson case is that during his final years he
served on the six-person panel that determined fellow retired players’
claims for disability payments, which often included claims for
cognitive damage caused by football. Few such claims were ever
granted, and Duerson explained his own skepticism of any link between
football and dementia to a Senate committee in 2007:

“In regards to the issue of Alzheimer’s, my father’s 84, and, as I had
mentioned earlier, Senator, spent 30 years at General Motors,” Duerson
said, according to the hearing transcript. “He also has — he also has
Alzheimer’s and brain damage, but never played a professional sport.
So, the challenge, you know, in terms of where the damage comes from,
is a fair question.”

In a telephone interview Thursday, Tregg Duerson said that his father
had changed his mind over the next several years, as news media
reports convinced him that the link was not only real, but acting on
him.

“The best thing that we have is the suicide note, where he said to
please give my brain to the N.F.L.’s brain bank,” Tregg Duerson said.
“It was clear that he was suffering from a mental illness that he
knew.”