Broward News

Dan Marino Is a Game-Changer for Concussion Lawsuits Against NFL (Updated)

Update: That was a quick moment in the moral sun.

Marino is pulling out of the lawsuit, according to new reports. Check below for the details.


The hits have come steadily for the National Football League on the concussion front (bad pun, sorry). As research continues to pile up on the deleterious effects of high-velocity professional play on the mental health of former players, hundreds of lawsuits have been aimed at the league. But the pivotal moment for the movement against the NFL's decades-long indifference has just arrived: Last week, Hall of Famer and former Dolphins QB Dan Marino was named as a plaintiff in a suit filed in federal court in Philadelphia. Nothing in the league will ever be the same.

Why? you ask.

Well: Sure, right now everyone is in some agreement about the effects head injuries have on professional football players. But legally speaking, the gridiron labor-versus-management fight hasn't gotten a lot of public attention -- or sympathy.

Until now, it was easy for the cold, unsympathetic eye of the public to ignore complaints as boo-hoos coming from crusty old-timers, poor-performing bench artists, and well-paid no-names who failed to excel on the field. The movement lacked superstar power.

But now here's Marino.

Playing from 1983 to 1999, Marino holds dozens of league records and took his teams to ten playoff appearances. He was marbled into the Hall of Fame in 2005. More so, he turned his play on the field into the kind of mainstream celebrity that happens to only a few players each generation. So far, he's the highest-profile player to sign on to a lawsuit against the league over head injuries.

The interesting thing is that Marino was never known to have suffered serious concussions during his time in the league. As this Forbes blog points out, unlike Marino, two other marquee QBs, Tory Aikman and Steve Young, both suffered career-hobbling head knocks.

So why don't they jump into the suit? Well, for one, both still have jobs as NFL commentators -- a gig Marino had for CBS until he was unceremoniously dumped after last season. It suggests that if there isn't some kind of contractual language that keeps players from suing or standing against the league, there's likely some backroom pressure to keep analysts from doing so. That's the Devil's Deal of commenting gigs: You keep your name alive and get paid, but you're still under the shadow of the NFL.

Marino's participation in the suit is significant because it also points to the scope of the problem. If a QB with no known history of concussion problems (meaning they were probably unreported, swept under the rug) is now ready to claim he was a victim, other big names who've kept quiet likely have similar issues they've hidden. But that won't last forever. Guys like Young and Aikman are going to be coming forward eventually, and the NFL will have to pony up.

Not that it couldn't. The league made just over $9 billion in revenue last year.

The lawsuit features Marino and 14 other players. It was filed last week. The document charges that the league was careless and negligent when it came to the connection between concussions and long-term health problems.

"Despite the NFL's knowledge of such dangerous practices and the increased risk of head injury to the players, the NFL turned a blind eye for decades," the suit says.

Marino and company go on to claim that the league held back information on the effects of concussions and also failed to develop the proper methodology for diagnosing these health issues -- tantamount, in lawyer talk, to negligence, fraudulent concealment, and a civil conspiracy.

The case laid out in the lawsuit is similar to the claims made by more than 4,500 other former players who have tried to find justice against the NFL through the courts.

The legal battle against the NFL is at a strange position right now. In January, the league agreed to a $765 million settlement to the previous lawsuits over head injuries; under the terms, the league agreed to set aside $675 million in a fund for qualified players. But a federal judge rejected the settlement, saying (and this really hammers in the scope of the problem) that the proposed fund might not be large enough.

Update: The Sun Sentinel says Marino's reps are yanking his name from the legal action. The paper reports Marino never wanted to be part of the litigation in the first place. So much for taking a stand.

"It was never Marino's intention to initiate litigation in this case, but to ensure that in the event he had adverse health consequences down the road, he would be covered with health benefits. They are working to correct the error," a source told the paper.

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Kyle Swenson
Contact: Kyle Swenson