11-16-2012, 12:54 PM
According to documents obtained in a joint investigation by PBS' FRONTLINE program and ESPN's "Outside the Lines", the National Football Leagues' retirement board awarded at least $2 million in disability payments to at least three former players after reaching the conclusion that football was the cause of their brain injuries. In 1999, the retirement board determined that the late Mike Webster, a Hall of Famer who played 17 seasons in the NFL, mostly with the Pittsburgh Steelers before finishing his career with the Kansas City Chiefs, was "totally and permanently" disabled due to repeated blows to the head he received as an active player. Webster passed away in 2002 at age 50 and was the first former player to be diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy after donating his brain for research. Bob Fitzsimmons, Webster's attorney in that disability case and the current co-director of the Brain Injury Research Institute, believes the conclusions reached by the retirement board to be the "smoking gun" in current lawsuits against the league. "It's pretty devastating evidence," said Fitzsimmons. "If the NFL takes the position that they didn't know or weren't armed with evidence that concussions can cause total disability — permanent disability, permanent brain injury — in 1999, that evidence trumps anything they say." There is little doubt that the conclusions reached in 1999 by the NFL's seven-member retirement board — which consists of three owner representatives, three player representatives and non-voting representative of the NFL Commissioner — will be used in lawsuit filed against the league by nearly 4,000 former players (and likely growing after today) who allege that the NFL engaged in a decades-long plan to cover up the link between concussions and permanent brain injuries.