For damage to players like Karl Mecklenburg, blame falls on both sides

Thursday I spoke with the great Denver Bronco, Karl Mecklenburg, about the concussion issue confronting him and the NFL. Mecklenberg is named in the lawsuit against the NFL. He said when he was entering the NFL, he knew there was a chance for orthopedic injuries but never realized there were potential concussion issues. For me, that's in one sense hard to believe, but on the other hand, there wasn't a lot of information back in 1983 when Karl entered the league.

He said the retired players have to go after the NFL with litigation because the league hid the truth from players about the dangers of concussions for years. I have a feeling after to talking to a number of doctors that the new evidence about concussions simply wasn't available two decades ago.

I asked Mecklenburg if the NFLPA did anything to refute the lack of information the league didn't get out to the players back in his playing days, and he said, "That's a really good question," but he proceeded to continue his total focus on the NFL. I did say that the NFLPA had doctors available to them as well. but he never answered my question.

He did give me some examples of his memory loss issues. He said when he goes to a hotel. he takes a picture of his room door so he knows what room he is in just in case he forgets. He also always parks his car in the same area at the airport so he isn't lost when he returns from one of his speaking engagements. He is concerned about his memory loss at age 51.

Right after I spoke with Mecklenberg, an iron worker from New York City called into my Sirius show and said he fell off a steel beam when he was up 20 floors and smashed his elbow and back. When he got in front of a judge looking for a large settlement, the judge asked him if he recognized the danger in working on skyscrapers. He said yes. The judge then asked him if he ever considered quitting after he recognized the danger, and he said no.

Then the judge said the medical bills would be paid, but the iron worker fell under the umbrella knew as "inherent risk factor," and there was no ground for a large cash settlement.

Today the worker is building and repairing bridges and still taking physical risks because he has to support his family. He had no patience for the NFL players who believe they are owed a big payday for concussion issues on the grounds they didn't know the risks of playing pro football. As he said. "No one forced them to play, they could have gone out and gotten a real job right out of college."

I stand somewhere in the middle of these two opinions. I believe the NFL and the NFLPA have to help retired players struggling with the longterm affects of concussions, but if 2,500 former players prove the NFL game is so dangerous that all of their problems are related to their playing days, no one will be willing to even make a helmet to play the game.

Pat Kirwan has been around the league since 1972, serving in a variety of roles. He was a scout for the Cardinals and Buccaneers, a coach for the Jets as well as the team's Director of Player Administration where he negotiated contracts and managed the team's salary cap. He is the author of Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, and the host of Sirius NFL Radio's Moving the Chains.
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