The visual, undeniable evidence of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice cold cocking his fiancée (now wife), and the reports of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson "disciplining" his children are almost too much to bear. And they're not the only ones. For many, and for some for the wrong (some would argue, racist) reasons, too many football players act like "thugs" -- violent men who release their anger on the women and children in their lives in much the same way as on the football field. Rice and Peterson are just the current poster boys for this kind of behavior, but just think how many "bad actors" there have been over the last decade or two: Jovan Belcher, Greg Hardy, Dwayne Goodrich, Thomas Hollywood Henderson, Dave Meggett, Eric Naposki, Robert Rozier (Rameses), Kevin Wright and, lest we forget, O.J. Simpson.
At the same time, the NFL has had to deal with a burgeoning crisis over catastrophic concussion injuries suffered by football players that have left some in near-vegetative states. Yet, it appears that the mainstream press -- and, apparently, the League -- has failed to consider what seems like a possible key linkage between such injuries and the too-often violent behavior of football players off the field!
Of course, I don't here defend the likes of Rice (who has pleaded guilty), Peterson (who certainly deserves due process) or any of the men who came before them. Still, is there a football-related underpinning for what they, and perhaps so many other footballers, have done in their lives off the field of battle, even after their battle days were over? Said differently, does getting hit repeatedly on the field help define your behavior off the field? Hard to say, but certainly worth looking at.
Pending in the federal district court in Philadelphia is a class action lawsuit brought by retired NFL football players against the NFL, which has agreed to a settlement that requires the NFL to pay monies to those who are members of the class and who have a valid "Qualifying Diagnosis." The court rejected the $675 million proposed settlement so that claims will be paid by the NFL for the next 65 years, without limitation on the amount of funds available (funds are separately being set aside for an assessment program and an education initiative).
But what is a Qualifying Diagnosis and is it broad enough to cover those football players who are sick, but not (yet) diagnosed with the most serious of illnesses? To qualify to participate, a retired player must have been diagnosed with dementia, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's or ALS or he must have died prior to July 2014 having chronic traumatic encephalopathy ("CTE").
Seems pretty broad, except it does not account for the following: Most players do not have Alzheimer's, Parkinson's or ALS. No, many exhibit symptoms of CTE or repetitive mild traumatic brain injury ("MTBI") -- symptoms of which include visual impairment, chronic pain, depression, mood and personality changes, headaches, sleep dysfunction, attention disorder, memory deficits, and an inability to control their impulses, to name a few. And because this is a class action suit, every retired player surrenders his right to sue the NFL for cognitive injuries so that, unless he falls squarely into a Qualifying Diagnosis (meaning, he does not "merely" have CTE or MTBI), he will not be compensated and he will have lost his right to sue (while, by the way, the class lawyers receive up to $112 million for their work). Although those players will be permitted to participate in an assessment set up by the settlement, the assessment itself is designed only to measure certain cognitive functions, and not most of those associated with MTBI, a precursor to CTE.
So along comes the law firm of Molo Lamken representing seven retired players, all with stellar careers and all with symptoms of MTBI. Yet, because these players' injuries have not escalated to a "Qualifying Diagnosis," they will receive none of the settlement funds, notwithstanding that they made their living being hit over and over again, all in the name of entertainment -- while making billions for the League. And notwithstanding that those players and their loved ones have suffered and will continue to suffer the debilitating and potentially life-altering effects of CTE or MTBI.
Has the NFL really stepped up to the plate (to mix a metaphor)? In the face of constant, enormous pressure, it has agreed to settle the class action suit. And it can now claim it has taken a hard line by suspending Rice and Peterson for their offending behavior. But is that even close to enough? Doesn't the League have to acknowledge that the violent off-the-field behavior of some of its players may lie in their on-the-field job requirements? And more to the point, shouldn't the League be required to take responsibility for all players (and, frankly, their families) who suffer cognitive dysfunction, regardless of whether it "qualifies" under the class action settlement?
Again, we're not saying that Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson took too many hits to the head (even with a helmet) and only as a result engaged in the scandalous conduct that has now reached the front page of every tabloid in the country, and also the editorial pages of every serious press outlet. At the same time, and not for the purpose of helping bad actors get off a criminal hook, shouldn't the League look beyond its obvious goal of settling a pending class action lawsuit as cheaply as possible? Shouldn't it want to have the physical and possible psychological impairments of a vast number of its players and former players more closely examined to determine what really happened to each of them? Or does the NFL want to leave these ballers on the side of the road while it and class action lawyers (who stand to score a touchdown for themselves) try to finalize a settlement by persuading a federal judge to simply sign at the bottom line?
If the "bad actors" are acting badly because of severe, or too many, hits to the head, shouldn't everyone, especially the NFL, want to know it? And now!