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Policy: Law

Some unsportsmanlike conduct behind former players suit against NFL

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NFL,Gregory Kane,Columnists,Analysis,Law

Lying in my hospital bed recently, I listened as my nurse told me of some wisdom she’d heard from the mouth of a babe.

Her son had quit football, she said, because he wanted to avoid those hard hits to the head.

“Your son showed he had more sense than those former NFL players trying to convince us they didn't know about the dangers of concussions,” I told her.

Yes, the little boy showed he had more knowledge than the players that filed a lawsuit against the National Football League, swearing they didn’t know about the dangers of concussions.

An Aug. 29, 2013 story on the NFL's web site summed it up best.

“More than 4,500 former athletes — some suffering from dementia, depression or Alzheimer’s that they blamed on blows to the head — had sued the league, accusing it of concealing the dangers of concussions and rushing injured players back onto the field, while glorifying and profiting from the kind of bone-jarring hits that make for spectacular highlight-reel footage.”

Let’s take a reality check for a second.

We Americans love our football. It’s a violent sport, not for the weak of heart.

The fans love it; the players love playing it. And these days, they’re well remunerated for it.

But it doesn’t take a Phi Beta Kappa to realize one truth: the human body wasn’t really built for football.

Players — from the peewee leagues all the way up to the pros — know this before they take the field.

When grown men — most with college educations — try to tell us they really didn’t know that playing football, especially at the professional level, could lead to concussions and other serious injuries, then we have to conclude they’re being more than a bit disingenuous.

Still. NFL honchos decided to settle the lawsuit for some $765 million. Some feel they’re also going way overboard in implementing new rules to avoid concussions.

I’m talking about the rule banning helmet-to-helmet hits. I’ve seen players get flagged for hits that came nowhere near the opponent’s helmet.

And, after all, football is still football. It’s possible to get a concussion without a helmet-to-helmet hit.

The most famous hit in pro football history was not helmet-to-helmet. It was the tackle Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Chuck Bednarik made on New York Giants halfback Frank Gifford in 1960.

I guess I should say the Bednarik hit on Gifford was “arguably” the most famous hit in pro football history, but I don’t know who’d argue the point.

Bednarik’s tackle knocked Gifford out cold and left him with a concussion. Gifford missed the final four games of the 1960 season and all of the 1961 season.

In 1963, Baltimore Colts halfback Lenny Moore played only seven games of a 14-game season. He also sustained a head injury. Moore made a decision not to return to the field until he had completely recovered.

He received a torrent of criticism for his decision, from Colts coaches, fans and the media. But Moore stuck to his guns, and probably spared himself much agony in the future.

The next season, 1964, a completely recovered and healthy Moore scored 20 touchdowns, led the Colts to the NFL Western Conference title and was named Comeback Player of the Year.

We can pretty much dismiss the claim in the players’ lawsuit that accuses the NFL “of concealing the dangers of concussions.”

The claim that the league “rush[ed] injured players back onto the field” implies that players have no say in whether or not they play.

According to a 2010 New York Times story, Gifford “pursued a local television offer rather than return to the Giants in 1961.” Moore’s experience I’ve already covered.

It’s the players, not the league or coaches or owners, who have a final, say in their health.

GREGORY KANE, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan.
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