Archive for March 15th, 2011

Introducing ALREADY LOCKED OUT: The NFL and NFLPA’s Rejected Disability Claims

Ever since Dave Duerson’s suicide last month, I have been talking – I believe so far all by myself – about his role on the six-person joint management-union NFL Player Care panel reviewing ex-players’ disability claims, which included applications for acute care expense reimbursement for dementia under the John Mackey “88 Plan.”

Though this is a sore point for those who loved or knew or admired Duerson, I don’t see how we can responsibly flinch from it. The generation of broken brains in pro football is a microcosm of a national problem for amateur athletes, their parents, and all of the rest of us who for too long have turned a blind eye to the human toll of our entertainment. There are larger stakes here than Duerson’s bruised feelings, which by definition he no longer has.

The current collective bargaining impasse, which has led the National Football League Players Association to decertify as an AFL-CIO affiliate so that individual players can litigate, and precipitates a lockout threatening the 2011 season, highlights all the issues dividing the two sides. But the one issue the public should most care about is on the back burner of the contract negotiations: the history of the league’s investment in the now ascendant concussion issue.

With that in mind, I am endeavoring to find detailed data on the 11 reported rejections of 88 Plan claim applications. This is not because I necessarily think all or even any of these individual cases deserve to be independently championed; each has a unique set of facts to which none of us is privy. Focusing on the 88 Plan’s rejected 11 further ignores that not all disabled players’ claims are about head injuries, and that not all head injuries lead, or at this point have already culminated in, dementia.

Still, the journalism on this huge subject has to start somewhere. We pretty much know that Duerson was brain-damaged, and we know that he participated in reviewing a cluster of claims by brain-damaged colleagues’ families with negative outcomes. More information on those cases will facilitate “reverse-engineering” the history of the NFL’s response to the concussion crisis.

The league would like everyone to believe that chronic traumatic encephalopathy was invented the day before yesterday, but I don’t think we should let Commissioner Roger Goodell and his employers off so lightly. The narrative goes back at least 15 years, and the players’ union, slow to respond to the constituency of maimed ex-players, has been a league partner in that unfortunate process in measures large and small.

Disclaimer: I’m not sure Duerson participated in all 11 88 Plan claim rejections. The NFL spokesman referred me to the NFLPA, which appointed Duerson, and the NFLPA has not returned my messages.

Nor do we know how Duerson voted (notwithstanding his heated confrontation with ex-player Brent Boyd at a Congressional hearing). I had an illuminating exchange about all this with John Hogan, a leading disability attorney in the Atlanta area who represents many former players.

Hogan said he has explained to several clients that the challenge of the Duerson wild card, in a court of law, would be showing that Duerson had ever sided with the three NFL-appointed members of the review committee. It is believed that the three NFLPA reps almost always voted together. This is all speculation, and under privacy law neither the committee members nor even Hogan can disclose names.

The NFL disability system “is pretty much illegitimate, regardless of the Duerson situation,” Hogan told me. “However, I have no doubt that the many medical reports of brain injured players seeking line of duty, disability, and 88 Plan benefits weighed heavily upon him.”

But all of the above does not mean that the names don’t exist and that their stories shouldn’t be daylighted – here, or even better, at the football helmet safety hearings that are being bruited about on Capitol Hill. Anyone with more information is invited to contact me at tips@muchnick.net.

The lockout is on, but nearly a dozen retired NFLers are already locked out – denied mental disability claims by a panel that included someone who himself should have had a mental disability claim. Let’s find out why.

Irv Muchnick


SEE ALSO:

Dave Duerson NFL Suicide Story You’ll Read Nowhere Else — In Five Parts

‘WWE critic: Blumenthal should repay supporters with involvement in sports concussion controversy’

(Reprinted with permission from the Manchester Journal Inquirer.)

WWE critic: Blumenthal should repay supporters with involvement in sports concussion controversy

By Don Michak
Journal Inquirer
Published: Monday, March 14, 2011

A professional wrestling critic’s call for U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal to get involved in proposed hearings about concussions in sports has been met with a less-than-enthusiastic reception.

Irvin Muchnick, an author and blogger from California whose sharp criticism of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. figured in the Connecticut Democrat’s successful campaign against the WWE’s former chief executive, Republican Linda McMahon, last week urged the former attorney general to use his new job to help resolve “the national concussion crisis.”

Muchnick explained that two other Democrats, Reps. Henry Waxman of California and G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, had asked a House subcommittee to hold hearings on football helmet safety, but that he wasn’t optimistic about the prospects for such an initiative in the Republican-controlled House.

“Calls for hearings by the minority party are a dime a dozen,” he said.

Muchnick also argued that any hearings should be broad enough to raise questions about the “global problem” of concussions in all contact sports, including the wrestling sponsored by the Stamford-based WWE.

“Concussions in sports are mixed up in the whole cocktail of steroid and painkiller abuse as well as the whole subject of regulation of the profitable and influential” professional wrestling business, he said.

Muchnick said Blumenthal had won his race against McMahon with the help of the director of a steroid-awareness group, Don Hooton, as well as from Michael Benoit, the father of a brain-damaged three-time WWE champion who committed suicide after killing his wife and son.

Blumenthal had brought Benoit from Canada to Hartford, where Benoit accused McMahon of running for the Senate to protect WWE’s profits and fight attempts to regulate the wrestling business.

The McMahon camp responded that it was “outrageous and reprehensible” for Blumenthal’s campaign to suggest that the murders committed by Benoit’s son, Chris, “ought to be excused and instead someone else held accountable.”

Muchnick, meanwhile, said Blumenthal in his first post-election news conference had vowed to take action on steroids and that now was the time for the freshman senator “to punch the ticket on his mandate.”

Asked Friday if Blumenthal agreed with Muchnick and would get personally involved in the helmet/concussion controversy, the senator’s spokeswoman, Kate Hansen, had just a single-sentence response.

“Senator Blumenthal is engaging in efforts to reduce injury and harm to athletes and competitors, and is considering additional measures to make sure law enforcement has the tools and resources they need,” she said.

Blumenthal after two months in his new job has yet to make his maiden speech on the Senate floor, and appears to be hewing to the advice of veterans in the Democrat-controlled Senate that newcomers should keep a low profile.


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