Orthopedic surgeons commonly talk about knee osteoarthritis occurring after major trauma or ACL tears; we solve this problem by performing a total knee arthroplasty or knee replacement surgery. However, there does not exist a similar replacement for the traumatic brain injuries or brain damage we see in athletes years after the stadium lights have dimmed.
One doesn’t need a medical degree, or data, or even a television to believe that players of a rough contact sport, such as football, will probably suffer long term brain damage and cognitive impairment from repeated head trauma. In fact, locker room speak for the neurologic changes that boxers and gladiators such as UFC fighters undergo is commonly known as ‘punch drunk’.
The NFL, however, disagreed this to be the case and convinced its players the dangers were minimal. However, after being recently sued by 5,000 former players, they were forced to rethink their stance. After hiring actuaries to compile the data, they came to the conclusion that approximately 33% of retired football players will develop long-term issues like degenerative brain disease at a much earlier age than those of us that do not play football.
If knowing that 1 in 3 football players will be affected isn’t bad enough news, Chris Nowinski, from the Sports Legacy Institute states: “… that total does not even include former players who develop mood and behavior disorders and die prior to developing the cognitive symptoms associated with C.T.E.”
The lawyers for the NFL maintain that the findings were an overestimate and the number is likely to be smaller since it was based only on those involved in the lawsuit. Their sole purpose for the data, however, was to ensure there would be enough funds to pay any settlements to the players that were affected. In the case there is a higher number of players with long term brain damage, there will be money to cover their settlements, too.
The NFL originally agreed to around $1 billion in compensation, but amended that to an unlimited amount over 65 years. Most players who file claims to the NFL regarding this work-related injury, if it could simply be referred to as that, are those who are diagnosed with advanced dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. This amounts to around $800 million in compensation settlements. Those who are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis will receive up to $5 million.
The NFL calculated that players younger than 50 have about a 0.8 chance of a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s (compared to less than 0.1 percent for the rest of us), and those ages 50-54 have a chance of 1.4 percent (compared with less than 0.1 percent for the rest of us). Chances increase with age.
While the amount of money sounds like fair compensation, it will take 20 years to receive the first half and 45 years to receive the rest. If a player is diagnosed at say, age 45 with Alzheimer’s disease, he will have his total compensation at age 110. That sounds fair.
Many will argue that the players knew the risks involved when they signed up to play and shouldn’t receive any more compensation than other professions. While this may be true to an extent, every job has risks, even innocuous ones. Librarians can develop carpal tunnel syndrome, preschool teachers can get bulging disks, or a mom finds herself with osteoarthritis. All painful, but some possibly more deserving of a larger compensation than others.