NFL Players: 28 Percent Could Face Long-Term Brain Injury

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As many as 28 percent of National Football League players are expected to develop long-term cognitive problems because of severe brain damage suffered while playing, according to Reuters. The study by benefits and human resource consultancy Segal Consulting, which was hired by the law firm representing the NFL, looked at self-reported medical data from a database of retired player medical histories.

Problems that NFL players are more likely to face than the general public include Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, ALS, dementia, and other cognitive and neurological disorders. The report was part of an ongoing class action suit by a group of 5,000 former NFL players who are suing the league for compensation. The report states that the chances of the plaintiffs facing cognitive issues are even higher: as much as one in three.

The NFL has for years disputed evidence that football players face significant mental health risks from the sport, according to the New York Times.

According to the NFL-sponsored report, the prevalence of cognitive problems among players far outstrips that of the population in general. Former players under 50 see dementia, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's at a rate "nearly 200 times that observed in the general population."

Attorneys for the former players suing the NFL hired an actuarial firm which estimated that approximately 19 percent of 19,400 still living former players would develop "compensable injuries." Both reports were furnished to AOL Jobs by organizations representing the players.

The higher numbers of the Segal Consulting report were intentionally conservative: "In developing our assumptions, we at each stage sought to err on the side of overstating the number of players who will develop Qualifying Diagnoses and also sought to err on the side of projecting the development of the Qualifying Diagnoses at earlier ages."

The intent was to test whether a previously capped $760 million settlement from January 2014 would be large enough to pay all reasonably conceivable claims over the next 65 years. The two sides agreed to remove the cap in June, according to USA Today.

Brad Karp, the chair of law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and counsel for the NFL, sent AOL Jobs a statement. In part, it said:

The reports over the weekend were inaccurate and reflected a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of actuaries and the purpose and nature of the actuarial reports that were released. Actuaries are not medical doctors; they never interviewed the players or reviewed the players' medical records. The actuaries, which were hired by counsel for the NFL, did not attempt to predict which players would suffer from neurological conditions in the future or how many would suffer or whether the neurological conditions were caused by playing in the NFL, playing at another level, trauma from an event entirely unrelated to football or the natural consequence of aging.

That said, actuaries regularly estimate probabilities of such conditions as accidents and diseases based on existing information. Such estimates are routinely used by insurance companies to set rates and by corporations to estimate workplace risk. In addition, while self-reported medical data is a limitation of the studies, it could be that the data under, rather than over, represents the magnitude of the problem.

According to the NFL's report, a short career is not a guarantee of safety as "60 percent of all players estimated to receive compensation have fewer than the five years [playing history] needed to receive the maximum monetary award."

A statement by co-lead counsels Christopher Seeger and Sol Weiss for the retired NFL player plaintiffs sent to AOL Jobs read as follows:

This report paints a startling picture of how prevalent neurocognitive diseases are among retired NFL players, and underscores why class members should immediately register for this settlement's benefits. The settlement ensures that retired players suffering from a qualifying condition will receive the compensation they need quickly, and the now-uncapped monetary award program guarantees all eligible claims over the next 65 years will be paid regardless of total cost.

The NFL has recently faced withering criticism over its handling of the Ray Rice case of alleged domestic violence and claims that the league ignored evidence, according to NPR.
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