December 8, 2011; Pittsburgh,PA, USA: Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy (12) is attended to by medical personnel after a helmet to helmet hit by Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison (92) during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 14-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USPRESSWIRE

The Chickens may be Coming home to Roost - NFL: Not For Long?

Talk of player safety has increased over the past few years, but little of consequence seems to have been done about it. Sure, we’ve seen James Harrison getting fined every other week, and new “rules” for concussion recipients are in place.

Tell that to Colt McCoy, who was clobbered in a game against – you guessed it, the Steelers by – you guessed it – James Harrison. McCoy sat woozy on the turf and was obviously wobbling when he did get up.

He was left in the game.

That one play could wind up being the centerpiece of the massive lawsuit against the NFL and used as an example of total systemic failure on the part of the NFL to properly protect players and could wind up being the costliest hit Harrison has ever delivered.

However, he won’t be the only one paying for it.

Should the multibillion-dollar suit succeed, there’s a very real possibility that the league could be shut down either temporarily or have outsiders dictate the rules of the game. We could wind up with the FFL, and I’m talking “Flag” not “Fantasy” depending on how things go.

To add fuel to the fire, league Guru Ricky Williams said that he doesn’t trust “doctors” as he air-quoted the word, when it comes to medicine. Really?

Considering the source, that should make the NFL even that much more worried over the litigation it faces. Whatever the league airhead proclaims to be true, the opposite should be assumed and move forward from there. The fact Williams retired after last season notwithstanding.

Even back in 2009, GQ of all publications came out with an article called “Game Brain” prompted in large part by the death of former all-universe center and – you guessed it – former Steeler – Mike Webster back in 2002.

The full 9-page article can be found here:

http://www.gq.com/sports/profiles/200909/nfl-players-brain-dementia-study-memory-concussions?currentPage=1

I highly recommend reading it in its’ entirety, but here I’ll sum up as much as I can.

Webster had retired after fifteen seasons, all with the Steelers, and his life after football became one tragic turn after another. At one point, he was broke and living in a car without even all the windows intact. He reportedly bought a Taser and would tase HIMSELF unconscious so he could sleep.

If that’s not someone in dire need of assistance, I don’t know who is.

What the autopsy revealed at the time was Webster suffered from “Punch-Drunk Syndrome” which is just as it sounds like: something that Boxers (ever seen Mohammed Ali after about age 40?) get way too much. But Webster’s brain didn’t look different from a normal one on the outside – Boxers often wind up with visible contusions on their brain from repeated blows to the head.

Webster wore a helmet. That should’ve prevented such a thing right?

Not so fast.

Webster had been to multiple doctors, asked for help many times, and according to the GQ piece, applied for the highest compensation level allowed by the NFL: “total disability, football-related.” Had he gotten approved, he would have gotten as much as $12,000 monthly. After 6 months of tracking down Webster’s doctors and medical records since Webster’s memory was by now horrible (he couldn’t recall if he were married or not, for instance) and presenting the case to the NFL, the league responded by “wanting Mike Webster to see THEIR doctor.”

What this almost always translates to is “Before we can make a decision, you have to see a doctor that is on OUR payroll and whose job it is to minimize awards to former players so he can save us (the NFL) TONS and TONS of cash.”

Webster’s case was so obvious, as it turns out, even the NFL’s doctor agreed with Webster’s others: his injuries were caused by playing football.

The NFL committee unanimously voted for PARTIAL disability despite this. That’s the lowest level allowed. LOWEST LEVEL FOR MIKE WEBSTER?

Appeals followed, the NFL fought them. Webster died soon afterward.

I could recount case after case after case, starting with the hit on Cleveland Browns’ signal caller Colt McCoy, continue with Junior Seau, and bring up several players that have recently retired because of concussions. I trust my point is made.

No doubt, the litigators have gathered information like this and hundreds of other cases. Granted, Webster’s is an extreme example, but he’s not alone by any means. The attorneys will present each case along with the records that the NFL will be forced to provide to paint a picture of the league ignoring the issue probably for much, much longer than we even know today.

What I see coming out of this is MAJOR trouble for the league in general. With today’s Workers’ Compensation laws and Federal vs. state jurisdictions, it’s already a big mess but unifying the lawsuits has brought some measure of focus to the problem as well as intense media and fan scrutiny.

I can’t see how the NFL will be left untarnished and unpunished. As a result, should the suit succeed, at minimum we should see a large increase in prices and fees the league and NFL franchises will charge for everything from tickets to jerseys – forcing the middle class to stay home instead of attending the games. Revenue will be more difficult to generate with a smaller paying fan base, and the entire pie will shrink.

Furthermore, the ripple effects will be that player salaries could very well begin to _decrease_ which in turn will cause more labor strife. The NFLPA union will rightly demand more concessions for ex-players and a much larger revenue share going to the retired players’ fund for these injuries and in turn putting even further strain on the finances of the NFL.

After that, the entire business model could collapse.

Welcome to reality, folks.

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Tags: Cleveland Browns Colt McCoy Concussions James Harrison Junior Seau Mike Webster NFLPA Pittsburgh Steelers Punch Drunk Syndrome

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