Inquirer Editorial: Timely heads-up on NFL injuries

The Eagles' LeSean McCoy is tackled by the Saints' Keenan Lewis, who would leave the Jan. 4 game with a concussion.
The Eagles' LeSean McCoy is tackled by the Saints' Keenan Lewis, who would leave the Jan. 4 game with a concussion. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 20, 2014

Just two Sundays before a federal judge in Philadelphia concluded that the National Football League is likely getting off too easily in a proposed $765 million brain-injury settlement, the Eagles-Saints playoff game offered compelling evidence that pro football has a long way to go. Gridiron action is still seriously injuring players, with potentially devastating, lifelong effects.

While New Orleans was eking out a win, a national television audience saw a concussed Saints defenseman angrily pleading to get back into the action after team doctors had pulled him from the game. On another field across the country that day, another head-injured player actually made it back to the scrimmage line for one more play.

In both cases, it seemed as if the players had never heard of the 4,500 retirees suing over health problems that include dementia and early-onset Alzheimer's, as well as the paralyzing killer Lou Gehrig's disease. During their active years, the plaintiffs no doubt adopted the same attitude, responding to hard blows to the head by just "shaking it off" and getting back in the game.

The league responded to the latest instances of players being put at grave risk with little more than a scolding. The NFL committee that polices such injuries declared in a letter that the players violated concussion protocol by refusing to head for the locker room. One doubts that such correspondence sends shock waves through the ranks, especially since no one was fined a single dollar.

It was fortunate timing, then, when on Tuesday - in advance of today's championship matchups, as well as the annual Super Bowl hoopla - U.S. District Judge Anita Brody refocused public attention on the need to take gridiron concussions seriously.

Not only is Brody probably correct that the NFL fund will come up short on claims from as many as 20,000 eligible former players - the obvious remedy being that the billionaire owners should pony up. She also exposed an apparent effort to shield collegiate football from head-injury lawsuits by pro retirees.

It's critical that the NFL stop fumbling its efforts to stem head injuries, and perhaps even more so that college-level teams strive to limit concussions. Brody's intervention could well move that play down the field.

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