NFL Players who Filed Suit Face an Uphill Battle

Four former National Football League (“NFL”) players sued the NFL on Wednesday, December 21, in a federal court in Atlanta. The four players-Jamal Lewis, Dorsey Levins, Fulton Kuykendall, and Ryan Stewart-allege that the NFL misled them and failed to protect them from on-the-field head injuries.

The players contend that the NFL failed to take precautions to prevent head injuries and to adequately warn players of the long term risks playing professional football poses to a player’s head. The players further allege that the NFL used a “hand-picked committee of physicians” to perpetuate a façade that misrepresented the effects of head trauma, particularly concussions. At the time the NFL made such misrepresentations, the players allege, it knew of the heightened risks of long-term brain injury.

On Thursday, December 23, 2011, the NFL responded by stating that it “has long made player safety a priority and continues to do so.” The NFL’s statement continued by asserting that the players’ allegations stand “in contrast to the league’s actions to better protect players and advance the science and medical understanding of the management and treatment of concussions.”

The NFL veterans will face an uphill battle in proving their case. The NFL is expected to argue that the cause of the players’ injuries may be due to voluntary participation in high school and collegiate football. Furthermore, the NFL will argue that the players’ participation in the NFL was completely voluntary as well. Second, for professional athletes to sue management, the law requires the dispute to fall outside the realm of a collective bargaining agreement in place between the players association and the owners. Lastly, the players could be barred from bringing their claims due to the statute of limitations. A statute of limitations bars a plaintiff from suing someone after a statutorily prescribed time period has passed since the occurrence of the plaintiff’s injury. Fulton Kuykendall, for example, is 53 years old and played for the Falcons during the 1970s.