US & Canada

NFL players join forces to sue league over concussion

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at a press conference in Atlanta 22 May 2012
Image caption NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said the league will continue to study brain injuries

Thousands of former American football players are suing the National Football League, alleging it hid the dangers of football-related head traumas.

The newly filed lawsuit combines more than 80 prior that seek to hold the league responsible for treatment of brain injuries and diseases.

The suit also accuses the NFL of glorifying violence through its NFL Films division.

The league has denied similar accusations in the past.

In a statement, the NFL said it was reviewing the complaint, filed on Thursday.

"The NFL has long made player safety a priority and continues to do so. Any allegation that the NFL sought to mislead players has no merit," the statement said.

'Blind eye'

The complaint alleges that for years the National Football League (NFL) "was aware of the health risks associated with repetitive blows".

Strong, heavy and fast-moving American football players can generate huge force when colliding on the field of play, with helmet-to-helmet impacts common in many phases of the game.

"Despite its knowledge and controlling role in governing player conduct on and off the field, the NFL turned a blind eye to the risk and failed to warn and/or impose safety regulations governing this well-recognized health and safety problem," the complaint says.

Former running back Kevin Turner developed amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) after his time in the NFL. He told reporters on a conference call he hoped the legal action would push the NFL to improve its safety practices.

"I want this game to be around [in the future], to be a great sport, a sport that my own boys will be able to play and enjoy all the benefits I believe football has," Mr Turner said.

But he added that the NFL had largely ignored effect of multiple concussions and the difficulties faced by retiring players.

Suicide concerns

The NFL provides a series of medical benefits to former players, including a programme providing funding to treat dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and ALS, but does not require them to prove a connection to their football careers.

The combined lawsuit comes several months after the suicide of Junior Seau, a former San Diego Chargers player, and the 2011 suicide of former Chicago Bears star Dave Duerson.

Seau's ex-wife, Gina, told the Associated Press news agency that over the course of his 20-year football career, Seau suffered multiple concussions.

Seau's family has donated his brain for research into the effects of head trauma on football players.

Duerson's family have already filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the NFL, and are plaintiffs on the combined suit.

One of the plaintiffs, Mary Ann Easterling, remains on the lawsuit despite the suicide of her husband former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling in April.

Ms Easterling told AP she believed the NFL had no idea what families of football players with brain injuries have to live with.

"I wish I could sit down with [NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell] and share with him the pain. It's not just the spouses, it's the kids, too," she said, referring to the behavioural problems associated with long-term brain trauma.

"Kids don't understand why Dad is angry all the time."

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