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The Detroit Lions, concussions, and why the NFL player settlement hurts us all

September 11, 2013 by Steven M. Gursten

For Ziggy Ansah and the NFL, the same doubts linger over concussions and brain injury

Ziggy Ansah and concussion

I serve on the executive board of the American Association for Justice Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, and every year I speak and attend many legal and medical seminars across the country on brain injury.  So as you might imagine, the recent settlement of $765 million between the NFL and the former football players who suffered brain injuries has been a hot topic.

Most of the brain injury professionals and lawyers I know have expressed shock and disbelief on the various TBI lawyer listserves that I participate on, conveying that by settling now, the NFL was able to keep hidden (possibly forever) its knowledge on the dangers of concussion injuries. The NFL has also been able to hide how long the league has known about it.

For Detroit, and for Ziggy Ansah as the top pick of the Detroit Lions in the draft – who played a great game Sunday against the Vikings but who had been previously diagnosed with a concussion in the preseason – the same lingering implications now exist.

Ziggy Ansah may be the spark the Lions were hoping for when he was drafted. But with one concussion already, Ziggy’s future with the Detroit Lions is still cloudy no matter how great he played Sunday. According to one published medical study, the risk of suffering a second concussion is three to six times higher after suffering a first concussion.  This  does not bode well for Ansah’s future with the Detroit Lions. On a related note, take a look at our blog post on Dale Earnhardt and his multiple concussions.

Before Ansah, it was Jahvid Best. And before Best, it has been many others.  The Detroit Lions have certainly had their share of concussion misery.  No one really knows what will happen to Ansah this season, or what his future may hold.  Some, including myself (full disclosure: I love football and it is my favorite sport to watch) have wondered aloud whether there will even still be a sport in my future grandchildren’s lifetimes due to the growing understanding of what even seemingly minor concussions are doing to the brains of players who play football.

Yes, players come from many different economic backgrounds.  Yes, football players do assume the risk of choosing to play a dangerous sport.  But there is more to it than just talk of personal responsibility.  And that brings us to the concussion settlement between the players and the NFL.

Was there more to the settlement between the NFL and the players union?   What was kept hidden – and may remain hidden – now that the case has settled?

Did these players still assume the risk when they were being sent back in (or forced back into the game by coaches who cared more about winning than they did about these player’s brains, whether it be high school, college, or the NFL) when they  clearly had their “bell rung” and when they were clearly still suffering the lingering effects of concussion?

The NFL concussion settlement leaves us to speculate about what the NFL knew, and for long they have know about it.  We are left to speculate about the secret medical documents that may exist, similar to the Big Tobacco litigation, where the NFL knew far more about the dangers of concussion and brain injury.

By settling the case now, all of this will remain hidden. Many lawyers I know are comparing this to hush money, and wondering openly if the NFL settlement was done quickly to make it all go away, and before the season began.

We will never learn the truth.  At least for now.

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