Earlier this month, we saw Germany take home the 2014 World Cup with a beautiful goal by Mario Gotze. However, during the same game, Christoph Kramer’s head first collision with Argentina’s Ezequiel Garay arguably received just as much attention. The replay shows Kramer’s head violently strike the shoulder of Garay and whip backwards causing him to collapse on the field. After the hit, Kramer continued to play for another 14 minutes before being replaced due to post-concussion symptoms. It is thought Kramer was reluctant to leave the field due to FIFA’s substitution rules that do not allow a substituted player to return to the game.
The collision between Kramer and Garay once again brings concussions and mild traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) to the forefront of discussion in professional sports. More specifically, the discussion revolves around how leagues investigate and handle these injuries which can have very serious and long term effects on their players. FIFA is now debating whether to allow temporary substitutions following a suspected head injury to allow for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Last year, the N.H.L. attracted similar attention with Sidney Crosby’s concussion injury that took him out of the game for over 10 months. That was not the first time the N.H.L. has faced this concern. Prior to Crosby, many N.H.L. leaders have been forced into early retirement due to head injuries including Eric Lindros and Pat LaFontaine.
This leads us to question whether national sports leagues have an obligation to be proactive and disclose the dangers of concussions to their players.
This was the basis of a lawsuit launched by more than 4,500 retired football players against the N.F.L. alleging the league concealed its knowledge of concussion related brain damage. Each player included in the action claims they have sustained a TBI as a result of repeated blows to the head endured over the course their professional careers.
On July 7th, a Pennsylvania federal judge approved a preliminary settlement which has an unlimited cap on damages for players who suffer from severe neurological disorders. However, the offer is highly controversial as some believe that it lacks transparency, allows the league to escape liability, and excludes those who suffer from permanent symptoms such as ongoing headaches or personality disorders. More information on the status and background of the action can be found here and here.
In my opinion, leagues need to put player safety over profits and recognize the lifelong effects that TBIs can have on their players. A good place to start is to change the approach towards concussions and begin to treat head injuries seriously. Hopefully the increased awareness of concussions and TBIs in professional sports translates into further research and prevention both on and off the field.
Contributed by Michael Giordano, Associate Lawyer with Sal Guzzo, LL.B. and member of OTLA.