(Corrects year of Super Bowl in penultimate paragraph in story published yesterday.)
July 20 (Bloomberg) -- The National Football League and sports-equipment maker Riddell Inc. were sued by 75 former professional football players over allegations that the league and the company concealed data about dangers of concussions.
Former NFL stars, such as Miami Dolphins receiver Mark Duper and Phoenix Cardinals running back Lyvonia “Stump” Mitchell, allege league officials knew for more than 75 years concussions posed long-term health risks and didn’t warn players, coaches or trainers, according to the lawsuit filed yesterday in state court in California. The players seek unspecified damages from the NFL and Riddell, the league’s official helmet maker.
“For decades, defendants have known that multiple blows to the head can lead to long-term brain injury, including memory loss, dementia and depression,” the players’ lawyers said in the 81-page complaint.
The league issued a June 2010 warning that brain injuries from concussions, which result from brain movement within the skull after an impact, “may lead to problems with memory and communication, personality changes, as well as depression and the early onset of dementia.”
NFL officials plan to “vigorously contest” players’ claims that the league withheld information about health risks tied to concussions, Greg Aiello, an NFL spokesman, said in an interview.
Riddell, owned by buyout firm Fenway Partners Inc., hasn’t had time to review the suit and can’t comment on it, Laura Moore, a Riddell spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement.
The former NFL players contend in the suit that they suffer from dementia, headaches, lost memories, blurred vision and depression as a result of repeated concussions suffered from bone-jarring hits and tackles. The players argue the league and Riddell officials should have warned them earlier about the long-term risks of such blows.
A study released July 19 by a Loyola University of Chicago professor found athletes who play American football showed symptoms of mild brain dysfunction at an earlier age than non- playing peers. In addition, there was more illness among the retired athletes than in those who were about the same age.
Earlier this month, former Baltimore Colts tight end John Mackey, who was ranked by Sports Illustrated Magazine as the third-best player at his position in NFL history, died after being diagnosed with dementia. Traumatic brain damage was found in autopsies of Andre Waters, a former Philadelphia Eagles defensive back who killed himself in November 2006 at the age of 44, and former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson, who killed himself in February at age 50.
$1 Million Pledge
The NFL has taken steps over the last three years to address concussion concerns by restricting helmet-to-helmet contact and fining players for violating those restrictions.
The league also has pledged $1 million to Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy to research how to prevent and treat brain injuries. Commissioner Roger Goodell told the league’s 32 clubs that players with concussion symptoms can’t play or practice until cleared by a neurologist.
The players’ suit alleges the NFL was negligent in failing to warn them and league medical personnel about the long-term health threats tied to concussions. The suit also contends Riddell’s helmets were defectively designed because they didn’t “provide adequate protection” from concussions.
Fenway Partners, with offices in New York and Los Angeles, acquired Riddell in June 2003. A year later, the private-equity firm purchased Bell Sports Corp., best-known as a bicycle-helmet maker, for $240 million and combined it with Riddell. The firm has $2.1 billion in capital under management, according to its website.
Duper, a former Pro Bowl receiver suing over concussions, “suffered multiple concussions that were improperly diagnosed and treated throughout his” 10-year career, according to the suit.
Mitchell, a kick returner and running back for the Cardinals from 1981 to 1989, contends in the suit that he suffers from “headaches, neck problems, vision problems and occasional confusion” as a result of repeated concussions during his playing days. Mitchell, a former NFL assistant coach, is now the head football coach at Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Other former stars listed as plaintiffs in the case include New York Giants’s Rodney Hampton, a two-time Pro Bowl running back who helped the Giants win the Super Bowl in 1991, and Harold Jackson, a five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver who played for the Los Angeles Rams, Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots, Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks during his 17- year career.
The case is Vernon Maxwell v. National Football League, BC465842, California Superior Court (Los Angeles).
--With assistance from Elizabeth Lopatto in New York and Phil Milford in Wilmington, Delaware. Editors: Glenn Holdcraft, Mary Romano.
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