In covering Dave Duerson’s suicide pointedly, I mean no disrespect for the memory of someone who, according to many people who knew him, was a good guy. I never met the man myself. But my research on the murder-suicide of wrestler Chris Benoit and its offshoots has turned me into a lay PhD candidate on the ugly personality changes, loss of emotional control, and sheer cognitive deterioration that are hallmarks of chronic traumatic encephalopathy – from which Duerson, like Benoit and so many others, may be proved to have suffered.
So I have specific reasons for resisting the mawkish sentimentality of much of the Duerson media coverage. That coverage reflects the culture we inhabit. It is also perfectly appropriate for family and friends to be eager to keep his legacy positive. For my money, however, such a legacy must be tied to outcomes.
As we move along, I’ll be discussing several of the outcomes I have in mind. Here’s one for starters: an adjustment of the record created by Duerson’s work for the NFL Player Care Foundation, whose programs include the so-called “88 Plan,” which provides retired players with up to $88,000 per year for medical and custodial care resulting from dementia.
I checked with Brian McCarthy, the National Football League’s communication director, and he told me that since the February 2007 inception of the 88 Plan, the joint labor-management disability claims committee has received 170 applications. All but 19 have been approved. Eight applications are pending. Eleven have been rejected.
I am not sure how many of the 11 rejections came during Duerson’s tenure on the committee – I assume all or almost all. Out of respect for his sacrifice and in acknowledgment of what, in retrospect, was his diminished competence, these 11 files should be reopened and reconsidered at once.
The same should be done for all non-88 Plan claims on which Duerson deliberated. I believe these would include the claims of ex-Minnesota Viking lineman Brent Boyd, the subject of the story on this blog yesterday. (Boyd’s file began in 2000, pre-88 Plan, and may not ever have referred to that part of the disability benefits program; he claimed football-related mental illness, but I don’t believe that included dementia.)
What say you, NFL and your Player Care partner, the NFL Players Association?
You can litigate to death the question of Duerson’s disqualification. Or you can take the high road in at least this narrowly defined area, in return for considerable public good will. On the field, you’ve instituted replay review for the sake of getting the call right. Today, off the field, the lives of disabled NFL veterans and their families require nothing less.