Five former football players filed a lawsuit against the Kansas City Chiefs on Tuesday, claiming that the team’s management hid information and even lied to players about the risks of head injuries. The suit is the latest in a string of legal actions taken against the National Football League (NFL) and other professional sports leagues over the impact of head injuries sustained in sports.
The lawsuit was filed in Jackson County Circuit Court in Missouri on behalf of former players Leonard Griffin, Chris Martin, Joe Phillips, Alexander Louis Cooper and Kevin Porte, who played on the team between 1987 and 1993, a period when there was no collective bargaining agreement in place in the NFL.
The lawsuit seeks more than $15,000 in actual and punitive damages. All five players have opted out of a $765 million dollar settlement with the NFL announced in August that would compensate more than 4,500 former football players for their head injuries.
The Kansas City plaintiffs are allegedly suffering from post-concussion syndrome and latent brain disease because of multiple concussions they sustained while playing for the Chiefs. They also allege to be suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which can be definitively diagnosed only by examining the brain after death.
In recent years, a string of former NFL players and other athletes who suffered concussions have been diagnosed with CTE after their deaths. They included linebacker Junior Seau and safety Ray Easterling, who both committed suicide.
The lawsuit filed on Tuesday states that the Chiefs ignored decades of research indicating that concussions cause long-term brain damage, instead referring to the injuries as "getting your bell rung" or a "ding." It accuses the team of lying to players in saying concussions are not serious injuries.
Martin, a Kansas City resident who played linebacker for the Chiefs from 1988 to 1993, said at a news conference he didn't know that continuing to play in games after sustaining a head injury would cause permanent damage.
"I would have liked to have the opportunity to know that going back on the field would cause me to have severe disabilities later in life," he said. "I didn't know that. That's what the lawsuit is about."
Chiefs spokesman Ted Crews and NFL spokesman Greg Aiello both declined to comment on the suit.
Plaintiffs' attorney Ken McClain called the August settlement between the NFL and former players insignificant and said it provides compensation only to the former players with the most severe brain injuries. None of the five plaintiffs will get monetary compensation under that deal, since they opted out of the suit.
"It's really a very small amount of money if you do the math. It's paid out over 20 years; it's $765 million total. It's a little under $20 million a year the teams are contributing to these very severely injured people. It's not very much money."
The settlement, subject to approval by a federal judge in Philadelphia, would apply to all past NFL players and spouses of those who are deceased.
About 19,000 retired players would be eligible to seek awards or medical testing, but current players are not part of the deal. The settlement does not include an admission from the NFL that it hid information from players about head injuries.
At the time, the settlement announcement appeared to remove a major legal and financial threat hanging over the NFL. But if too many former players opt out, the deal could fall apart.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press