|Kurt Warner, like other former NFL players, won't let his kids play football. (Getty Images)|
The concussion lawsuit doomsday scenario for the NFL, the one being talked about privately at every level of the sport, from owners to agents to even players themselves, goes something like this.
There are approximately 1,700 former players who have sued the NFL. Their cases continue to weave through the judicial system.
Over a period of years, as the games go on, testimony is taken and arguments made. Players tell stories about being sent back into games despite memory loss or losing consciousness. The suicides of former players are discussed. The letters CTE become as associated with football as NFL. Names like Junior Seau and Dave Duerson are talked about in detail. The story of the day Andre Waters shot himself in the head is told. Emotional testimony is given. The games go on, and so do the court fights for years. And years.
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Meanwhile, to limit potential legal exposure, there are more changes on the field. Hard hits are limited even more. Fines and suspensions increase. The violence of football, the staple of many diets of the American sports fan, is drastically reduced. There is talk in some media outlets that football is losing its grip as the top sport in the country.
More players sue. Judgments are handed down. Few million here. Tens of millions there. There is another suicide. And another. By the year 2020 the legal losses are staggering, maybe in the billions.
But by then the damage is already done. The NFL isn't necessarily concerned about the lawsuits bankrupting the league. That's of course a worry. The larger concern is that the suits cause such negative publicity and erosion of the brand that advertisers flee, networks bail and the most relevant sport this society has followed since baseball's heyday loses that relevance.
None of that nightmare could happen. Or all of it could. Or parts of it. But that is the scenario privately outlined to me by one owner, agents and others associated with the sport as the worst case. It is hypothetical, but it's also not totally implausible.
In this era of strife and distrust between the union and owners there is one potential area of agreement, and it's the possibility that the numerous concussion lawsuits represent the greatest threat the NFL has ever seen.
"The league has lived through wars," said one owner, "and I believe it will live through this, but this is the biggest challenge we may ever face."
The NFL is in an extremely difficult spot. In order to keep itself alive, it may have to lower the level of violence dramatically, but it is that level of intense violence that draws many fans.
The crux of this conundrum, which will undoubtedly be discussed repeatedly as various lawsuits proceed through the legal system, is that all players -- current and retired -- have different definitions of just how much violence is too much. Or too little. There are now just as many former players who say there is too much violence in football as there are current ones claiming Goodell has made the sport soft.
Baltimore safety Bernard Pollard said in a radio interview recently he didn't believe the NFL would be in existence in 20 to 30 years due to the lawsuits and the sport losing its violent origins.
Just last week 100 more players, including former running back Jamal Anderson and former quarterback Don Majkowski, added their names to a list that continues to grow.
The NFL has been planning its legal strategy for many months against these lawsuits, I'm told, and part of the league's defense will be that players were given all of the relevant information needed about concussions. Lawyers for the players will argue there was a concussion cover-up.
Earlier this year, Duerson's family filed a wrongful death suit against the NFL and Riddell helmets and the NFL. Recently, as the site NFLConcussionLitigation.com reported, the NFL asked a judge to move the case to federal court so it can be merged with other concussion suits in Philadelphia (which would be favorable to the NFL since they could fight many cases at once instead of separately) while lawyers for Duerson wanted the case to stay in the lower court.
The NFL has moved to dismiss the case, but if the Duerson suit sticks, in many ways, it could become a true test case for other concussion lawsuits.
Everyone is watching and commenting as the litigating commences in earnest. Hall of Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure, inducted in 2003, is another example of how divergent the opinion on what exactly is the level of violence in football. DeLamielleure backed former quarterback Kurt Warner, who himself might one day go into the Hall of Fame, when Warner said he wouldn't allow his kids to play football.
"I have five grandsons," DeLamielleure told San Diego radio station Xtra 1360 on Sunday. "I have told my daughters from day one, those boys are not playing football. Now the oldest is eleven. There is no way. Not until they clean it up. They are trying to clean it up. But not until they take care of the guys who helped build this game, would I consider letting my children or grandchildren play."
DeLamielleure also said he believes tragedies like Seau's can be prevented, and he blames what he believes is the excessive violence of the sport on the use of HGH.
"We have sub-poverty pensions," DeLamielleure said. "[The NFL] does not want to give the guys livable pensions. Give them health care, so they can go to a private doctor without jumping through hoops with the NFL and the NFL union." He added: "The [NFL] wanted to test for HGH. Now the union wants to fight against that. How do you think guys weigh 350 pounds? You would have to eat the whole aisle of a supermarket everyday to keep that weight on."
All of these things will probably be discussed, and perhaps litigated, in what could be a nightmare for the NFL. Or even doomsday.