Brian Banks speaks during a news conference Thursday in Renton, Wash. Cleared of rape and kidnapping charges just two weeks ago, Banks gets to pursue his NFL dream. The 26-year-old player has spent five years in prison. He now has a tryout with the Seattle Seahawks.
NEW YORK — Scores of lawsuits involving thousands of former players touched by concussions and brain injuries have been consolidated into one master complaint, setting up a massive and potentially costly case for the NFL.
Lawyers for the players filed the complaint Thursday in Philadelphia, accusing the NFL of hiding information that linked football-related head trauma to permanent brain injuries. Among the illnesses cited were dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The plaintiffs hope to hold the NFL responsible for the care of players suffering from those health problems.
“The NFL must open its eyes to the consequences of its actions,” said Kevin Turner, a former running back with the Patriots and Eagles who has been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). “The NFL has the power not only to give former players the care they deserve, but also to ensure that future generations of football players do not suffer the way that many in my generation have.”
Also named in the suit was helmet-maker Riddell, Inc.
The suit accuses the NFL of “mythologizing” and glorifying violence through the media, including its NFL Films division.
“The NFL, like the sport of boxing, was aware of the health risks associated with repetitive blows producing sub-concussive and concussive results and the fact that some members of the NFL player population were at significant risk of developing long-term brain damage and cognitive decline as a result,” the complaint charges.
“Despite its knowledge and controlling role in governing player conduct on and off the field, the NFL turned a blind eye to the risk and failed to warn and/or impose safety regulations governing this well-recognized health and safety problem.”
In response, the NFL cited the many health programs it runs for current and former players, and a series of medical benefits to former NFL players to help them after football. Those include joint replacement, neurological evaluations and spine treatment programs, assisted living partnerships, long-term care insurance, prescription benefits, life insurance programs, and a Medicare supplement program.
“The NFL has long made player safety a priority and continues to do so,” the league said in a statement. “Any allegation that the NFL sought to mislead players has no merit. It stands in contrast to the league’s many actions to better protect players and advance the science and medical understanding of the management and treatment of concussions.”
The league added that in partnership with the NFL Players Association it has spent more than a billion dollars on pensions, medical and disability benefits for retired players.
Turner, however, sees little positive coming from those programs.
“For the longest time, about the first 10 years after I retired in January 2000, I thought I had just turned into a loser overnight,” he said. “I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. It was a very scary proposition — until I found out there were a lot more guys just like me. I find they had been through some of the same struggles. I realized this is no longer a coincidence.”
Attorneys for the players said they were not trying to tear apart the NFL, only to ensure that it lives up to its obligations to provide a safer sport. And that it offers proper care for those who have retired from the game.
Mary Ann Easterling echoed those thoughts.
She will remain a plaintiff despite the April suicide of her husband, former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling, who had been a named plaintiff in a suit filed last year. Easterling, 62, suffered from undiagnosed dementia for many years that left him angry and volatile, his widow said. He acted out of character, behaving oddly at family parties and making risky business decisions that eventually cost them their home. They were married 36 years and had one daughter. She believes the NFL has no idea what families go through.
“I wish I could sit down with (NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell) and share with him the pain. It’s not just the spouses, it’s the kids, too,” Easterling said. ““I think the thing that was so discouraging was just the denial by the NFL.”
The list of notable former players connected to concussion lawsuits is extensive and includes the family of Dave Duerson, who shot himself last year.
According to an AP review of 81 lawsuits filed through May 25, the plaintiffs include 2,138 former players. The total number of plaintiffs in those cases is 3,356, which includes players, spouses and other relatives or representatives.
Some of the plaintiffs are named in more than one complaint, but the AP count did not include duplicated names in its total. The master suit contains a provision to allow other players to join it as plaintiffs and attorneys expect that to happen.
“I just want the NFL to stand up and be accountable for its actions,” Turner said. “That is how we can prevent more people from suffering and keeping this game that has plenty of benefits. But we can make it safer and I am hoping that’s what we do.”
OCHOCINCO RELEASED BY PATRIOTS:
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots have released aging and recently ineffective receiver Chad Ochocinco.
The wideout formerly know as Chad Johnson spent one unproductive season with the team, even though the Patriots went to the Super Bowl. He had 15 receptions for an 18.4-yard average and one touchdown but rarely was a key part of the offense.
chocinco, who played 10 seasons for Cincinnati before joining the Patriots, restructured his deal in the offseason and took a pay cut to stay in New England. In seven seasons, he had seven 1,000-yard receiving years and a high of 97 catches.
Ochocinco tweeted Thursday: “Thoroughly enjoyed the oppurtunity to play for the “Patriot” organization... fans were ... wicked awesome, I wish all of you the best...”
His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said in a statement that Ochocinco is “in the process of gauging interest from potential teams.”
BANKS TO GET LEGIT SHOT AT NFL DREAM:
RENTON, Wash. — Walking into the massive indoor practice facility, looking up at the championship banners hanging from the ceiling and feeling the turf under his feet, Brian Banks allowed himself a moment to reflect on whether the reality matched the dream that helped get him through five years of wrongful incarceration.
"This is by far the second-best day of my life — May 24, my day of exoneration, and today," Banks said Thursday after getting a tryout with the Seattle Seahawks. "Just being out here on the field and work out with the Seahawks and to be given an opportunity to have a tryout, I don't really have words for it. It's a dream come true. I know a lot of people work hard to get to this point. I've worked hard myself and I'm just thankful for this opportunity."
And it may continue beyond just a one-day visit to the rainy Pacific Northwest. Banks, 26, impressed Seattle coach Pete Carroll enough that he received an invitation to participate in a formal tryout next week during Seattle's mandatory offseason minicamp.
All Banks needs to do is accept and he can turn another page on his remarkable feel-good story.
"This is a great illustration for us why people deserve a second chance," Carroll said. "Because of what he has overcome and because of what lies ahead for him in his life. This is just one step but it's a step he's been dreaming about for a long time. And it's just such a great illustration about not giving up and competing for what you want and not let your circumstances or surroundings dictate what is going to happen in your life."
When he was 17 and a star high school linebacker in California, a teenage girl Banks had known since childhood claimed he had raped her. He was arrested and, on advice of counsel, pleaded no contest to rape and an enhancement of kidnapping 10 years ago in order to avoid a possible life sentence if tried by a jury.
Banks served five years and two months in prison, but in a strange turn of events, the woman later recanted her claim and offered to help Banks clear his name after he was out of prison. Banks was on probation and wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet at the hearing late last month where he was completely exonerated.
Gone were the restrictions and the stigma, replaced by a clear record.
"He is a living testament to if you keep hanging and you're tough and you don't give up in what you believe in and your dreams, that you can make those come to life," Carroll said.
The little things most of society takes for granted, Banks has come to appreciate in his short period since his case was resolved. When he walked into the airport on Wednesday night to make the late flight to Seattle and endured the hassle of airport security, Banks didn't blink at emptying his pockets or removing his shoes.
"I know a lot of people complain about that, but I was thrilled about it," he said.
It was just the second time he'd ever been on a commercial airplane and his first flight in more than 15 years. Oh, and it came after an appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."
In just 14 days, Banks has become a spokesman and a celebrity.
"I served five years in prison. The last two weeks feels like a breeze," Banks said.
From a football perspective, there is still plenty left for Banks to prove. He first must decide whether to accept the Seahawks' minicamp offer. Banks' agent, Bruce Tollner, said Thursday afternoon that he had yet to speak with Banks about the offer, but that Banks tentatively has visits scheduled with five other teams.
"An invitation back to Seattle is a very positive thing that he'll want to consider, we just need to check his schedule," Tollner said.
While impressed with his raw athleticism, Carroll freely acknowledged that Banks is not refined to the level of an NFL linebacker and whatever expectations are placed on Banks need to reflect his lack of football schooling during the last 10 years.
Banks said Thursday that after his release from prison, he played one season of football at Long Beach City College in 2007, but changes in his probation that went into effect in 2008 kept him from continuing to play junior college football.
The fact Seattle was first up in Banks' NFL tour was not a surprise. Carroll and Banks first developed a relationship when Banks was a top high school prospect and Carroll was in the beginning stages of turning USC into a college powerhouse. Banks was offered a scholarship and made a verbal commitment to play football at USC during his junior year at Long Beach Poly.
More than a decade later, the pair was reunited on a rainy Thursday morning. Carroll watched Seattle linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. put Banks through a basic workout. He measured at 6-foot-2, 239 pounds. He ran a 40-yard dash, but didn't know his time. He did bag drills. He showed off the athleticism that first attracted Carroll to Banks when he was a prep star.
And he lived out a dream that seemed so unlikely while he was incarcerated. Banks, wearing a sweat shirt with "XONR8" on the front, said he was extremely appreciative that the Seahawks and Carroll are giving him a chance.
"I told the coaches today coming out here, and I absolutely mean it, I feel more appreciative for the opportunity than I feel deserving," Banks said. "I'm honored to have all of these people and all of these coaches of these different teams give me this opportunity."