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Citing the pending litigation, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league would not comment on players’ specific allegations and referred to a written statement initially released in December: “The NFL has long made player safety a priority and continues to do so. Any allegation that the NFL intentionally sought to mislead players has no merit. It stands in contrast to the league’s actions to better protect players and advance the science and medical understanding of the management and treatment of concussions.”

Jack Yeo, who works at a public relations firm representing Riddell, said the equipment company does not comment on legal matters.

As public as the plight of current players is, former players say their stories aren’t widely known.

“Fans don’t know. They have no clue. And you think the NFL is going to tell them? No,” says Ronnie Lippett, a Patriots cornerback from 1983-91. “I’m just so happy that the senators and congressmen and congresswomen took notice of how they have been cheating us. And that’s the only reason (players are) getting the help that we’re getting now. And it’s only been in the last two years that anything has started to change.”

Soon after a House hearing in October 2009, when lawmakers grilled Commissioner Roger Goodell about the league’s concussion policies and the connection between injuries on the playing field and later brain diseases, the NFL made several changes. Those included revamping return-to-play guidelines and changing the co-chairmen of its committee on concussions _ a panel, originally formed in 1994, that one pending suit against the league describes as “part of the NFL’s scheme to deceive Congress, the players and the public at large.”

The league finds itself continually changing its concussion protocols, most recently after Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy returned to a December game despite not being checked for a head injury following an against-the-rules hit to the helmet. The league put certified athletic trainers in booths above the field to watch for injuries and added video feeds on sidelines to make it easier to track dangerous hits immediately.

But players like Dorsett and Duper, who played long before that greater awareness and vigilance, didn’t have such safeguards.

“They weren’t as cautious back then. We played with concussions. I didn’t know what a concussion was, really, when I was playing football. We got hit, we got up,” Duper says. “I can remember times when I got hit, and I went back out on the field, and I couldn’t remember the plays. I guess that’s what a concussion is, the `Eeeeeeeeeeee!’ you’d hear. And you woke up and you’d see stars. I remember those things. And I played with it.”

Says Barry Brown, a linebacker and tight end for three teams from 1966-70: “When you know you’ve got a concussion, and they put you back in the game, it’s abuse.”

That attitude extended beyond head injuries, according to the plaintiffs the AP interviewed.

“The game of football and the money that was out there _ they wanted the best players in the games, no matter what. If he was 80 percent well or 75 percent, they believed that he, the starter, was better than the second guy behind him, and they’d rather have a less-percentage guy. They didn’t protect us at all,” Lippett says. “I took shots in my foot, in my shoulders, in my ribs. They had to know of the ramifications of going back out there with different injuries. The money aspect of it just forced them to not pay attention.”

Mara, the Giants‘ owner, says he can’t speak for other teams, but insists his medical staff takes “any kind of injury seriously.”

“They don’t let players go back on the field unless they feel they can do so without risk, particularly with head injuries,” says Mara, whose family founded the Giants in 1925. “Our trainer, Ronnie Barnes, has been with us forever. You ask any of our players, or former players, whether he put their interests first or the team’s interests first, and I think you’d find a pretty strong consensus that he always put the players’ interests first. I can’t speak to other organizations.”

Giants long snapper Zak DeOssie’s father, Steve, also played for New York, as well as New England, during his 1984-95 career. The elder DeOssie was approached about signing on as a plaintiff against the NFL but hasn’t because, he says, “I’m not 100 percent sure if my concussions have affected me.”

“You accept the responsibility and you accept the idea that you’re in a dangerous profession, but you also expect certain levels of care and professionalism on the other side. And I think it’s a lot better now than it ever was before,” says Steve DeOssie. “Whether it’s through public pressure, or whether it’s their own desire, they’ve gone a long way to make it right, which is a good thing.”

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