Federal judge hears arguments in NFL concussion lawsuit [updated]

    With billions of dollars potentially on the line, the National Football League went before a federal judge in Philadelphia today.

    It was just the first step in what may be a long, drawn-out process.

    About 4,200 former players, including some who played for the Philadelphia Eagles, are suing the NFL for not taking seriously the neurological risks of the game. 

    The NFL wants those 200-plus lawsuits dismissed, saying the claims should be preempted by the league’s collective bargaining agreement. Lawyers for the former players say the cases should be handled by the courts.

    The judge, who said from the bench that her grandson plays football, will determine whether the cases will move forward. Her decision is expected in a matter of months.


    Hundreds of lawsuits from thousands of former NFL players claim the league did not act to protect them from head injuries.

    That was the issue at the heart of a key hearing held at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia on Tuesday morning. The procedural hearing, featuring two high-powered lawyers, was the first step in what may be a long battle.

    The NFL wants more than 200 lawsuits filed against it to be dismissed, saying they should be preempted by the terms of the league’s collective bargaining agreement.

    Post-hearing reaction

    Outside the federal courthouse at Sixth and Market streets after the hearing, lawyer Paul Clement laid out the NFL’s initial argument.

    “The collective bargaining process makes an industry different, it has a lot of advantages,” said Clement, “but with it, comes certain responsibilities, including the preemption arguments that the judge heard today.”

    At a hotel down the street, the lawyer representing the former players stuck to the big issues.

    David Frederick says the lawsuits are about holding the NFL accountable on behalf of its players.

    “While they were doing their work that brought us so much pleasure, they were also experiencing insidious, latent injuries that have really devastated their lives,” Frederick said.

    Former Eagle speaks

    Among the players sitting next to Frederick was Kevin Turner. The former fullback played eight seasons during the 1990s, including five with the Eagles.

    Turner was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, in 2010. Some research says NFL players have an increased risk of dying from ALS.

    “I knew I would have a bad back, bad neck, shoulders, I was willing to accept that,” Turner told reporters. “But the fact that my brain has changed everything about me that much, I never knew, and frankly — ignorantly — never even considered.”

    U.S. District Judge Anita Brody next decides whether the lawsuits should move forward.

    That decision isn’t expected for at least a month.

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