Football Players Demand Better Health Monitoring

On July 21, 2011, we posted a blog about the lawsuit brought by former pro football players against the National Football League (NFL) for concealing information about the harmful effects of concussion from players, coaches, and trainers. And not only did the NFL drop the ball (pun intended) on its duty to inform players of the risks, they also failed to protect players from known risks.

According to a recent article in The New York Times, the lawsuit may become the first concussion-related class action against the NFL. A group of players is seeking damages for injured players, but also changes in the medical monitoring of players. The latter is the groundbreaking part of the lawsuit. According to the group’s lawyer, Larry Coben, while there have been improvements in the way concussions are analyzed and treated, there is much room for improvement in identifying injuries.

Specifically, Coben cited the use of blood tests as a way to diagnose concussions, saying the United States military has already begun using the technique and contending that such tests would increase player safety in the N.F.L.

Coben also asserted that the N.F.L. should be using testing procedures that examine genetic markers for indications of whether a player may be more at risk for developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy later in life.

“Modern technology is advancing,” Coben said in a telephone interview. “We need to get past just using doctors on the sideline and in the locker rooms to see if a player has been hurt.”

Class action lawsuits are tricky stuff, but the medical side of this lawsuit may be even more difficult. Some experts don’t believe that blood testing for head injuries is not quite ready for widespread use. But monitoring seems like a wonderful idea in a sport where the injury rate is 100 percent. However, according to the article in The New York Times, not everyone agrees that extra monitoring is important, or even necessary.

Jets linebacker Josh Mauga, who sustained a concussion last season, said the current concussion management program was thorough and sufficient. Mauga described the series of tests he had to pass (including balance and visual exams) before he could resume exercising after his concussion. And, when he felt symptoms during light jogging, he said he was sent back to the beginning of the process each time.

“I did those balance and vision tests so many times,” he said. “Because any time I started to feel anything, I had to start all over again. It took me three weeks.”

Still, it’s a lot to put the entire load of concussion recognition on young, eager-to-please athletes who might not be willing to sit on the sidelines while his teammates play to glory. But, as we’ve been reporting for months now, concussion is not a small or insignificant injury. Repeated concussions can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is a progressive neurologic condition. Football players have a right to be concerned. We’ll be watching the status of this lawsuit, and will report back when there is news.

To read the entire article in The New York Times, click here:  Concussion Suit Seeks Better Health Monitoring

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