With the Super Bowl being played on Sunday, the topic of concussions and the long-term health ramifications for football players who suffer them is again in the spotlight. Even President Obama weighed in, saying if he had a son he'd be hesitant to allow him to play.
The president's statements come on the heels of the announcement that Junior Seau's family is suing the NFL after medical reports determined that the former star, who committed suicide in May, suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) caused by concussions. And with the NFL cracking down on violent hits in the wake of the concussion studies, Baltimore Raven Bernard Pollard says he thinks the league won't even exist in 30 years.
While the topic is getting more national play in lieu of Sunday's big game, it's decidedly old news to Suwanee attorney John Hogan. The lawyer, who has practiced disability law in Gwinnett County for more than 25 years, is one of the country's leading authorities when it comes to NFL disability.
Hogan, who gave a speech about concussions last week at the Duke University Law School's Third Annual Sports Law Symposium, has represented many retired NFL players. The attorney also wrote a white paper on the subject titled "Illegal Procedure: NFL Disability Claims," which was featured on ABC Nightly News and the Washington Post among other outlets. He said the news of Seau suffering from CTE was hardly a shock.
"It didn't surprise any of us that he had CTE," Hogan said. "What did surprise us is that nothing was done about it, someone intervening from a league and teammate standpoint. These injuries to the frontal lobe affect judgment control. That's why I think we're seeing so many suicides."
Former Falcon Ray Easterling is one of a growing number of former NFL players who have committed suicide. He was a Hogan client, and the attorney said Easterling's wife came to him looking for help when her husband wanted to sue the Falcons and former coach Jerry Glanville. In that same vein, it was a group of former players -- including John Hannah, Joe DeLamielleure and Harry Carson -- who came to Hogan looking for help not for themselves, but for fellow NFL alumni who were suffering.
That occurred in 2007, and since that time Hogan has worked with players across the country to improve their retirement packages, particularly disability benefits. While his main goal has been in helping players get better benefits, he's become a major proponent of the need for improved care when it comes to the handling of concussions. He said a concern of his is that it's not just big hits, but repeated ones, that need to be regulated.
"What I want people to know, particularly parents with young kids, is that damage to the brain doesn't just come from lights-out concussions," Hogan said. "It comes from repeated blows to the head."
While Hogan doesn't expect the NFL to dissolve over the next three decades, he does anticipate that changes will be made, including practices as well as games.
"What I envision is rule changes with less contact in practice," he said. "What I think is going to happen is that a guy who goes out with a concussion is going to be out a lot longer than they are now. And they might have to expand the rosters because of it."
Despite his legal work with injured former players, Hogan said he's still a football fan, although he cringes at the hard hits. He said it's 50-50 whether he'll watch Sunday's game (not a fan of the teams being the major reason) but is more emphatic when it comes to those who may want to push their kids to take up the sport.
His advice to those parents: "Get some golf clubs."
Email Todd Cline at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Wednesdays.