This is a story in the NFL ongoing over the last few months about former NFL players suing the NFL for negligence saying the league did not take proper precautions when they suffered from a concussion back when they played and today it has resulted in dementia and brain disease for some players. I want to talk about the ethical issues involved.
On one hand you can see how the former NFL players have a case as some former athletes have suffered in the past and currently from some forms of dementia and brain disease and it is the league that is responsible for the safety of the players. But on the other hand the players know the risks to playing a dangerous sport like football and it is ultimately their decision to play. They are opening themselves up for a possible hit to the head that could cause brain damage. In this fast-paced sport that requires collisions among players, sometimes collisions involving the heads of players, the player is responsible for reporting a possible injury to their coaching staff and team doctors. Even if a doctor clears a player to play after suffering from a concussion, it is the player who knows what is best and if he feels healthy enough to play.
The players have to be open to receive counselling and further tests after suffering a concussion or any blow to the head but chances are these players were competitors back in their prime and likely wanted to get out onto the field and play football as soon as possible.
There is nothing that can prove now whether those men went out onto the football field playing with a concussion but it is definitely a possibility. For instance, in hockey (where head shots and concussions are also becoming a huge issue) a player from the Toronto Maple Leafs, Colby Armstrong, played a number of games when he had concussion-like symptoms this season and withheld the information from the coaching staff. He showed that he is a player who would put the desire to play ahead of his health. Eventually he confronted the coaching staff and informed them he had played a series of games with a concussion and missed over two months of hockey recovering from his head injury. So it shows that although athletes are professional, they do not always make a professional decision and some players do play through a head injury. This is only one example where a player admitted to playing through an injury but what about the players who do not come forward and tell anyone about any concussion-like symptoms and continue to play the sport?
Another issue is the fact that this could be heading on a slippery slope if the former NFL players won the case. If former NFLers could successfully sue the league for the injuries they suffered from, where in sports would it stop? Soon enough NHL players, MLB players, NBA players and other pro sports teams would be suing their league for any kind of injury. Not only professional sports but even minor league sports could be affected by it with young players suing their respective leagues for negligence if they think their injuries could have affected future memory problems of any kind.
The bottom line is the courts are going to have to make a difficult decision when it comes to this case and I hope they realize that it is the players’ decision to play the game at a high level and it is their choice to put their body in harm’s way.
- Andy Roy