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Disconnect grows between former, current players regarding concussions


One of the biggest hurdles facing the former players suing the NFL for concussions suffered during their playing careers arises from the claim that the NFL failed to warn the players regarding the risks of concussions. The NFL undoubtedly will defend that specific allegation by arguing that, even if warnings had been issued, the players would not have stopped playing football.

Supporting that contention will be the fact that no NFL player has retired due to fear of potential harm from concussions. Yes, some have retired due to the immediate consequences of multiple concussions. But no NFL player, current or prospective, has passed on playing football at its highest level due merely to the fear that the player may suffer one or more concussions that may cause problems for him later in life.

The fact that NFL teams drafted 253 players from Thursday through Saturday and are now signing scores of undrafted players with not a single one says “no thanks” confirms the mindset of a football player, and the potentially misplaced notion that warnings would have dissuaded any of them from playing football. Highlighting the fact that fear of concussions has yet to scare away incoming players is the arrival at the NFL level of receiver Nick Toon. The son of Al Toon, who ultimately left the game due to the debilitating effects of multiple serious concussions, Nick Toon will join the Saints.

Yes, the Saints. The new poster children for the NFL’s effort to take some of the violence out of an inherently violent game. And Nick Toon, who knows as much if not more than any NFL player about the impact of concussions, won’t be saying “no thanks.”

“I remember vividly right after he retired and he got his last concussion laying on the bed with him and hanging out and we couldn’t turn the lights on or anything,” Nick Toon told Gary Myers of the New York Daily News last year regarding Al Toon’s struggles with head injuries. “It seemed like he was in there forever. Obviously, kids are impressionable at that age. I don’t know that I was really aware of the severity of the situation. I think my mom and dad did a good job handling the situation because it didn’t scar me.”

It also didn’t keep Nick Toon from following in his father’s footsteps.

The son of Al Toon and 252 other players enter the NFL at a time when more and more former players are filing suit regarding their own concussions. Somewhat surprisingly, the NFL invited three of the former players who currently are suing the league to come to New York and announce one of their former teams’ picks on Friday night: Packers safety LeRoy Butler, Jaguars running back Fred Taylor, and Buccaneers safety Dexter Jackson.

And they accepted.

Jackson, the Super Bowl XXXVII MVP, filed a concussion claim last week, as part of a lawsuit led by Super Bowl XXV hero Jeff Hostetler and including Karl Mecklenburg, Monty Beisel, Phillip Epps, and many other former players. Also filing a lawsuit last week was Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson and other players, along with a third new civil action led by former No. 1 overall picks Tim Couch and Courtney Brown.

The number of concussion plaintiffs now exceeds 1,300. With players like Sean Salisbury openly recruiting more players to sue by playing the “strength in numbers” card, more undoubtedly will join, justifying their decision by the fact that so many others already have done so. As the numbers grow, the disconnect between the claims being made and the mindset of a football player will become more pronounced.

That’s not to say that claims regarding the NFL’s failure to take meaningful steps before 2009 to protect players from concussions will lack merit. But as players who now know all they need to know about the risks associated with playing football continue to flock to the NFL, it will be harder and harder to get a judge or a jury to accept that players would have walked away from the sport if they had known then what all players know now.