A Seat at the Table
Suing the NFL
by Jan Schlain
Onetime Lions quarterback Eric Hipple has joined the former players suing the NFL--but he's not in it for the money.
Hipple got concussed on the field many times. Like the 4,400 other former players who've filed at least 263 separate suits against the league, he's contending that officials knew the risks of head injuries for decades but hid or ignored evidence that linked such injuries to permanent brain damage.
The two sides met for the first time in court this past April when the NFL's motion to dismiss the cases was heard. The league was represented by former solicitor general Paul Clement, the players by veteran Supreme Court attorney David Frederick.
"This may be the most dramatic litigation battle in sports history," emails Atlanta attorney Drew Ashby, who's representing Hipple and the three other retired pro players. "The NFL is arguing that this is really a labor dispute, like a union fighting with its employer," he writes. "They argue that this is because the players have a union and many of them are subject to collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) that were in place at the time they played. In contrast, the players are arguing that this is beyond a labor dispute and that the CBAs have nothing to do with the NFL's negligence and intentional cover-up of brain injury information."
A mediator's report is due this month. If there is an award or settlement, some estimate it may total in the billions. But Hipple says he's not looking for money. He lives with pain--ankle, knee, elbow--left over, he says, from his playing days and laughs that he feels eighty years old (he's fifty-five). What really concerns him, though, is depression.
After the suicide in 2000 of his teenage son, his life fell apart. With help, medication, and hard work, he came out of it. Now employed as an outreach coordinator at the U-M Depression Center, he wants to be sure that mental health issues aren't lost in the legal battle.
wants, more than anything, is a seat at the table. "If we put plans together so that every player could be helped with depression, life skills, treatments, I'd be OK with that.
"The whole culture--the big pile of money--drives people trying to escape out of their circumstances to get to that level," Hipple says as he looks at the bigger problem. "It's not [anymore], 'I'm going to go out and play football because it's fun.' It's like buying a lottery ticket: 'If I win I've changed my life.'
"That money issue is being driven down (or filtering down) into youth football and high school football," he adds. "It should be played as a game for fun. Not as a driving force to ... win the lottery, because out of two million boys who play, only one wins.
"I want to sit at the table when it comes time, if there is a settlement, to help determine how that money will get spent. I want to make sure that there is a mental health piece, that we help the players with treatment programs for depression and mood disorders and the things that concussions can cause."
[Originally published in September, 2013.]
On September 28, 2013, Probie24 wrote:
Eric is a hell of a man, he knows the truth.