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MIAMI – Nearly two dozen former NFL players are suing the league over the fact that they were never informed that the game of football involved large amounts of pushing and slamming into other players and the ground. The complaint filed Thursday in Miami follows a similar one in Atlanta earlier this week. It is the latest in a series of recent lawsuits against the NFL by ex-players who were forced to earn millions of dollars in a system that involved harsh bodily contact between players.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of ex-Miami Dolphins teammates Patrick Retonde, Jack Gadden and nineteen other players. It accuses the NFL of deliberately concealing years of evidence revealing that players regularly and deliberately tackle other players, especially players holding the ball.
The NFL denies the charges and says player protection and comfort has long been a priority. “Football has long been accused of being a contact sport,” said NFL spokesperson and former swimsuit model, Marisa Miller. “But that is a bald-faced lie. Sure, sometimes, like in baseball, players accidentally bump, but that is not the essence of football.” She explained via several video examples that contact in football is largely an optical illusion. “And, the networks often insert crunchy sounds to attract viewers.”
According to the lawsuit, following numerous studies on the risks of concussions, the NFL created a committee of researchers and doctors in 1994 to study concussions. But players objected that the committee was filled with tobacco-industry doctors and did not include a physician specializing in “cracked heads and bones.” When the NFL committee published its findings in 2003, it stated, “There was no long-term negative health consequences associated with the rare and unintentional bodily contact between players during the game of football.” The committee did go on, though, to recommend that professional basketball be banned immediately by federal law.
The plaintiffs claim the NFL made misrepresentations about the regularity of physical contact during a game “without the benefit of any protective weaponry such as clubs or maces.” The plaintiffs explained that they were often expected to defend the quarterback from large and hostile players running at them from the opposing team.
A recent Pew-Trust poll of professional football players found that a culture of mockery pressures those who leave the field with an injury. “My head was bleeding badly,” said one lineman, “but the guys started pointing at me and giggling, so I went back in to play.”
In light of the peer pressure and neurological injuries, the plaintiffs have called on the NFL to provide independent neurologists and career counselors on the sidelines during games. Independent neurologists, not owned by the NFL, could be tasked with the job of sorting out conscious from unconscious players. “They pay guys to check that we’re wearing the right socks,” said Atlanta Falcon safety Quintin Johnson. “Why not have somebody to check if we remember our own names?”
In light of recent complaints, other players have come forward and confessed that they have helped turn football into a contact sport. “Sure, back in the early days, players never touched each other. It was a lot like golf back then,” said Aaron Fogerty, a linemen with the Los Angeles Rams in the 1970s. “But around 1972, both sides of the line, both, agreed that we should try tapping our helmets together when the ball was hiked. It turned out to be a drug.”
Some contemporary players take the point even farther. “I signed up for the injuries. Nobody hid anything from me. I wanted pain, and I joined football because the recruiters promised me pain,” said Rudy Malis of the New York Giants. “If they take my pain away, then I am out of here.” Maurice Stanford agrees. “This is the only place where you can actually legally assault somebody, and people cheer and give you money. Where else can I do that?”
Sport Illustrated recently polled former members of the 1983 Bengals. Some had no lasting impact from injuries, and others had many lasting hardship. But they all agreed they had no regrets. They also agreed that they could not remember the name of the team they had played for.
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