After what has seemed like an ages-long battle between the National Football League and a group of about 4,500 former players, it was announced Thursday that the two sides have agreed to a massive $765 million settlement.
It might bring a measure of closure to the families of the players affected by these traumatic brain injuries, including that of former Chicago Bears star Dave Duerson.
In February 2011, the 50-year old Duerson was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. Presumably, he did this so his brain could be used by Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. He wrote in a note to his family just before his death that he wanted his “brain given to the NFL’s brain bank.”
Alan Schwarz of the New York Times had a fascinating piece on Duerson’s downward spiral shortly after his death. His account of Duerson’s “memory loss, poor impulse control, and abusive behavior toward loved ones” gave a human face to the growing movement of former NFL players who have been experiencing these symptoms in relative silence over the years, and ultimately his family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the NFL.
The Duerson family’s lawsuit was eventually attached to the slew of other suits filed by former players after a court decision earlier this year, but the circumstances surrounding Duerson’s death remain one of the most powerful statements to date in the case, galvanizing the league’s opponents, and sparking a huge outcry among the public for more research into the long-term effects of concussions.
Stories began emerging, like the plight of former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, who has gone from the fun-loving QB of the Super Bowl XX champions to a shut-in suffering from early stage dementia. He joined the lawsuit against the NFL in 2012.
In an ESPN story that same year, McMahon described “sitting in the back of my room just watching TV in the dark,” and admitted that if he could have a redo on his career, that he would play baseball instead of football.
McMahon and Duerson’s stories are just a few of the many that former NFL players have shared in the months and years since these lawsuits first began to be filed. While some will surely wring their hands at the amount of money that the plaintiffs received in the case, there is still hope that the money invested in research, as well as rule changes in the league, could prevent similar circumstances for others, and might even lead to better treatment of these degenerative brain conditions.