A recent article in the Los Angeles Times chronicles the explosion in Parkinson’s and ALS claims among former NFL players who applied for an received payments under the NFL’s concussion settlement is much higher than expected. The correlation may point to a greater risk of neurodegenerative diseases than previously believed.
As recently as this year the head coach at a school in a big-time conference expressed doubt that CTE was actually dangerous and even doubled down on it in a second interview. It’s unbelievable that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, some people believe the Earth is flat, global warming isn’t real, and that concussions and CTE are not damn near synonymous at this point.
A gruesome tally of 113 Parkinsons and 42 ALS claims were filed by former players. According to reports, 81 Parkinsons and 30 ALS claims worth a combined $146.5 million either have been paid or approved.
It seems as if every couple of months or so there is a new frightening study that associates football-related concussions and collisions with degenerative brain diseases for players of all ages.
Previously, players’ lawyers predicted that 14 Parkinson’s and 18 ALS claims worth $52.6 million would be paid over the 65-year duration of the entire settlement. Yet, three years later we see how badly they lowballed themselves.
A report commissioned by the NFL predicted 31 paid ALS claims over the settlements lifespan; it did not provide specific numbers for Parkinsons.
Currently, despite the ever-mounting evidence, there is no consensus within the scientific community on whether head trauma contributions to movement disorders.
The official explanation at this point is there is no scientifically proven connection between head trauma and disease that lead to these types of debilitating diseases.
Scientists are uncertain why the rates of both diseases among retirees enrolled in the settlement are higher than projected.
Those are startling numbers, said Dr. Charles Bernick, associate director of the Cleveland Clinics Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas and the lead researcher of an ongoing, long-term study of the brains of professional boxers and mixed martial arts fighters.
We really dont know how much of an increased risk there is for those diseases among retired football players, or in combat sports like boxing. But if repetitive head trauma is a risk factor, we need to understand that. It has major public health implications.
The approximate rate of Parkinsons in the general population increases with age, from 41 cases per 100,000 people for ages 40 to 49 to 425 per 100,000 people for ages 60 to 74. For ALS, rates range from 3.8 cases per 100,000 people for ages 40 to 49 to 20 per 100,000 people for ages 70 to 79.
Reports of brain-related injuries associated with football has been the uncomfortable elephant in the room for the NFL over the past fews seasons. As more studies are done on deceased and current football players and diagnoses of CTE are discovered every day, we are no longer surprised to see players reveal their personal experiences with brain damage.
The rate of paid or approved Parkinsons cases within the group of NFL retirees enrolled in the settlement is 471 per 100,000, while the rate of paid or approved ALS cases is 174 per 100,000.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said that early claim numbers are not necessarily predictive of future claim levels over the settlements lifetime.
ALS and Parkinsons [diagnosis] are fairly straightforward and are unlikely to trigger concerns about fraud that would slow down the processing of the claims, McCarthy said. As a result, a relatively higher percentage of early claims may be attributed to these two conditions.
The agreement that went into effect in January 2017 covers about 17,200 registered NFL retirees and compensates those diagnosed with particular neurological disorders with payments of up to $5 million. In 2014 the NFL and the players lawyers submitted reports to a federal judge seeking to demonstrate that the proposed $675-million deal would be sufficiently funded to cover all claims over 65 years. However, the league later agreed to pay an unlimited amount in awards.
The NFLs report said that it sought to err on the side of overstating the number of retirees who would become sick and qualify for awards in order to ensure that the fund wouldnt run out of money.
Former Detroit Lions WR Titus Young didn’t have a horrible NFL career from a numbers perspective. However, as he serves a four-year prison sentence in Southern California, Young believes a long history of concussions has led him to his current fate.
In 2012, epidemiologists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined death certificates from a group of 3,439 NFL retirees who played at least five seasons in the league from 1959 to 1988. The study found that while former players were three times more likely to die from brain diseases such as Alzheimers than similar men in the U.S. population, their risk of dying from Parkinsons was elevated but did not reach statistical significance.
Science has not answered all the ways you can get ALS, said McKee, chief of neuropathology at the VA Boston Healthcare System and director of Boston Universitys CTE Center. It has answered very few. There may be dozens of disease mechanisms that lead to ALS symptoms.
Reportedly, nearly 300 Alzheimers and dementia claims so far have been denied by settlement administrators, leading the NFLs lawyers to claim the deal is rife with fraud, and players lawyers to argue that the league is obstructing legitimate cases, only nine Parkinsons and two ALS claims have been denied.
Thomas Vasquez, an economic consultant who wrote the players report, said in a recent court filing that 80% of the former players eligible under the settlement are participating in the deal, more than the 59% he predicted in 2014.
He predicts the settlement will pay out a total of $1.4 billion, $468 million more than his 2014 estimate. Settlement administrators already have approved $502 million in claims, roughly $100 million more than the NFLs 2014 actuarial report estimated would be paid out in the settlements first decade.
There is something very wrong here, said Donald Comrie, a scientific consultant who has worked with the NFL Players Assn. and former players who objected to the settlement. This is a sick population, and they havent been properly assessed or informed.