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Friday, February 01, 2013
Will Brain Injury Lawsuits Doom or Save the NFL?
From Bloomberg Businessweek:
When Gene Locks led Princeton against Columbia on Oct. 7, 1957, it took the Tigers quarterback only a few plays to discover “that the middle of the Columbia line was paper thin,” according to the Daily Princetonian. In the Tigers’ single-wing offense, Locks served as a blocker, leaving “gaping holes” in Columbia’s defense on the way to a 47-6 wipeout.
Fifty-six years later, a grayer, wider Locks sits in his Philadelphia law office behind piles of client files. Black-and-white gridiron photos of his svelte younger self look down from a shelf. In the 1970s he brought some of the first lawsuits on behalf of pipe fitters exposed to asbestos insulation. His firm eventually represented more than 16,000 asbestos clients in 20 states. In the late 1990s he helped lead the Fen-Phen diet drug litigation, which culminated in a $6 billion settlement. Now 75, Locks has earned a fortune in fees. In 2011 he had planned to spend more time with his grandchildren. “Then these concussion cases started coming in,” he says. “I remember what it’s like to get your bell rung.”
Even as an expected 110 million Americans take to their couches for the 47th Super Bowl on Feb. 3, Locks is waging a legal battle that represents the most serious threat to the viability of big-time football since an outbreak of fatal skull fractures back in the leather-helmet days. Locks and a group of allied plaintiffs’ lawyers are suing the National Football League on behalf of more than 4,000 former players and their wives who accuse the $9.5 billion-a-year business of covering up life-altering brain injuries.
Despite—or perhaps because of—its inherent brutality, football remains America’s most popular sport by far. Not only is the NFL the country’s single most lucrative sports enterprise, the league and its 32 teams also provide an atrophying television industry with its most profitable programming and an ideal vehicle for selling cars, beer, and erectile-dysfunction remedies. (The teams evenly share broadcast and licensing revenue. Ticket sales are split in a manner favoring home teams.)
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