Those who read the news know Reggie Rogers’ problem has been alcohol—including at least six drunk-driving arrests resulting in two prison terms, one the consequence of an auto accident that left three teens dead. Now the former University of Washington defensive end, drafted seventh overall by the Detroit Lions in 1987, says he has suffered for years from brain damage caused not by drinking but by the concussions he received while a college and professional football player.
The 47-year-old Seattleite is one of 75 retired National Football League players, including nine former Seattle Seahawks, who last week sued the league, contending that the NFL has known of the lasting damage caused by head-impact injuries since the 1920s but “fraudulently concealed the long-term effects” until just last year.
“For decades,” says the 86-page lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court and obtained by Seattle Weekly, “defendants have known that multiple blows to the head can lead to long-term brain injury, including memory loss, dementia, depression and CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy] and its related symptoms.”
Rogers and the others “did not know the long-term effects of concussions” and depended on the league to protect them, says the suit, which also names Riddell Inc., the NFL’s official helmet maker since 1989. Riddell had no comment, and the NFL vowed to “vigorously contest any claims of this kind.”
CTE, a trauma-caused dementia, was found in the brains of 14 former NFL players during a study by Boston University School of Medicine’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. Ex-Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson, 50, who shot himself five months ago, left a suicide note asking that his brain be used in the study. Ex-NFL lineman Shane Dronett also committed suicide, in 2009 at age 38, due to delusions resulting from concussions, his family said.
Lead plaintiff in the lawsuit is ex-linebacker Vernon Maxwell, who played for three NFL teams including the Seahawks (1989). He, like most of those named in the suit, says he suffers from severe memory loss and head pain.
Other former Seahawks who’ve joined the suit include Pro Bowl wide receiver Harold Jackson (1983), Renard Young (defensive back, 1987), Mel Jenkins (defensive back, 1987–90), Alvin Moore (running back, 1987), James Hood (wide receiver, 1987–88), Vernon Dean (defensive back, 1988), Tony Covington (safety, 1995), and Jim Willis (linebacker, 1999).
Also part of the suit is former Husky wide receiver Lonzell Hill, drafted by the Saints in 1987, and Larry Kaminski, ex-Denver center who lives in Poulsbo.
Mark Duper, a former Dolphins wide receiver, and ex-Giants running back Ottis (O.J.) Anderson, also are plaintiffs. Most of the retirees are in their 40s and 50s, although one, Pat Heenan, a Redskins defensive back in 1960, is 73.
Rogers, the divorced father of six children who is now planning to marry girlfriend Lara Monan, was a defensive tackle for the Lions and later played in Buffalo and Tampa Bay. He says he suffered multiple concussions that were misdiagnosed and improperly treated during his four seasons in the league. He suffers from hearing loss, headaches, and grand mal seizures, according to court papers. Rogers couldn’t be reached for further comment.
The lawsuit cites historical data, such as the first known case of “punch-drunk” boxers in 1928, as injury evidence that has been available to the league for much of a century. It wasn’t until 2007 that the NFL held a “concussion summit,” and that was due to media and congressional pressure, the players allege.
The league subsequently concluded, however, there was “no magic number for how many concussions [are] too many.” Last year, the NFL acknowledged concussions can lead to dementia, memory loss, CTE, and related symptoms.