Broward News

Retired Football Player Tracy Scroggins Sues NFL for Hiding Concussion Risks

Last week, the New York Times released a staggering investigation, alleging that the NFL's concussion-research team used faulty data to downplay athletes' risk of developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy, commonly known as CTE. The disease, which has been repeatedly diagnosed in football players, causes a person's brain matter — and memory — to slowly waste away. CTE can cause depression, and a number of former players with CTE have killed themselves since retiring. Concussions likely cause the disease.

On Thursday, the Times reported that the NFL used incomplete data to study concussions for 13 years. At least 100 concussions had been omitted from the league's concussion database — this, the Times said, made it seem that athletes were far safer from concussions than they actually were. The piece also showed that the NFL occasionally shared lawyers with the tobacco industry and sought advice from tobacco executives.

Though the NFL attempted to refute much of the Times' story, the investigation could cost the league a massive chunk of change: On Friday, retired football player Tracy Scroggins, who now lives in Fort Lauderdale, used the Times' information to sue the NFL. His could be the first in a wave of lawsuits filed against the league in the coming weeks.

Scroggins, a linebacker and defensive end, played his entire career with the Detroit Lions, from 1992 to 2001. For much of that time, he played alongside legendary running back Barry Sanders, one of the most talented people to ever touch a football. Scroggins himself was a stalwart if not an exemplary star: He recorded at least 20 tackles in eight of his ten seasons and tallied 9.5 sacks in 1995. 

But since retiring, Scroggins says he's been diagnosed with CTE. His suit tracks closely to the Times' report from last week: "The defendant has, over the past four decades, actively concealed and actively disputed any correlation between repeated head trauma and CTE," the suit says. "During the decades of the 1990s and 2000s, the defendant through its authorized agents disputed and actively sought to suppress the findings of others that there is a connection between on-field head injury and CTE."

Scroggins' lawyer, Phillip Howard, told New Times his client is too sick to hold a job. "He's struggling in multiple ways: in memory, his ability to recall events, his ability drive around town and know where he’s at or know where he’s going," Howard said. "He has all the same symptoms as a dementia patient."

When Scroggins read the Times' investigation, Howard said his client felt "betrayed."

"You place your body and talents at the service of the NFL, and then the NFL puts out false science on the risk of concussions," Howard said.

The suit then claims that the NFL actively schemed to conceal this data from players. As such, Scroggins has filed a class-action suit on behalf of “All current or former living N.F.L. players who sustained repeated head trauma while in the N.F.L. league, and who have, since leaving the N.F.L., been preliminarily diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.”

Last April, the NFL settled a similar class-action suit filed in Pennsylvania. According to that settlement, any player who retired before July 2014 who has been diagnosed with CTE can claim up to $5 million.

Howard says 225 people have "opted out" of that settlement. Some of those players, like former Kansas City Chief Tamarick Vanover, will be added to Scroggins' new lawsuit. "We'll be adding more to it as we do more research," he says.

Plus, he claims, the Times' investigation allows Scroggins to sue for racketeering. "There's evidence of cover-up," Howard says. "They were putting out false science."

Read the suit here:

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jerry Iannelli is a staff writer for Miami New Times. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. He moved to South Florida in 2015.
Contact: Jerry Iannelli