The High Price of Playing in the NFL

This NFL season has been wrought with story after story of former NFL players being diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated concussions and traumatic brain injuries. In November, the family of Hall of Fame running back Frank Gifford announced he had the disease. A former safety for the New York Giants, Tyler Sash, who died from an overdose of pain medication in September, was diagnosed with CTE last month. And just days ago, former NFL great, Ken Stabler of the Oakland Raiders, was diagnosed posthumously with CTE.

It’s not a new problem, but it is one that’s finally getting some attention. As the nation prepares for this year’s Super Bowl, more and more people are beginning to ask: How much should players have to sacrifice to be a part of the country’s biggest professional sports league?

In December, AAJ released a report, “Concussions and the Courthouse.” We focused on the role the civil justice system played in shining a light on concussions in professional sports, noting that it was the lawsuits filed on behalf of former players that really forced the NFL and other professional leagues to take notice of concussion research.

 As we wrote:

“No concussion lawsuit has had quite the effect of the NFL concussion litigation. One of the most high-profile court cases in sports history, the case immediately sent shockwaves not just through the NFL, of professional sports, but all contact sports at every level. Insurance companies warned that the league might face as much as $2.5 billion in damages, and no one knew better than them that that estimate might be the tip of the iceberg.”

The New York Times recently published an interactive gallery of former NFL players diagnosed with CTE, and the list reads like a who’s who of professional football players from the last four decades. The league has been backed into a corner where they now are finally recognizing the science behind CTE, and the civil justice system most certainly played a part. But for the thousands of current and former NFL players—and the millions more amateur and collegiate athletes—much more can and should be done to protect players’ health.