FENNO: Pat White return to NFL would set troubling precedent
Look over the 4,182 former players suing the NFL over head injuries and the damage is difficult to miss.
The Pro Football Hall of Famer who couldn’t speak during the last four years of his life.
The 1,400-yard rusher who needs a tape recorder to recall basic conversations and experiences the world through blurred vision and ringing ears.
The middle-aged Super Bowl MVP terrified by growing memory lapses and forgetfulness.
The All-Pro wide receiver in a nursing home unable to care for himself.
Then there’s Pat White.
But last April, White sued the NFL in federal court. Claimed the league’s equipment didn’t protect him from head injuries. Claimed multiple traumatic brain injuries. Claimed headaches, sleeplessness and mood swings.
In November, White switched lawyers and sued again. Some of the 222 lawsuits filed against the league simply list plaintiffs and their hometowns. The most basic details. White’s complaint alleged a comprehensive, devastating cost from “repeated and chronic head impacts.” Permanent injuries, the lawsuit said. Permanent.
The lawsuit rattled off White’s alleged problems: “Cognitive and other difficulties, severe headaches, speech issues, memory loss, depression, isolation, mental anguish and diminished self-esteem.”
White accused the NFL of concealing the long-term consequences of head injuries. Eleven causes of action in all. Fraud. Negligence. Even added “intentional infliction of emotional distress” and “negligent infliction of emotional distress” in his short-form complaint.
All that disappeared when the possibility of an NFL contract materialized this week.
On Tuesday, White voluntarily dismissed the second lawsuit, according to federal court records reviewed by The Washington Times. On Wednesday, the quarterback dismissed the first lawsuit and showed up at Redskins Park to resume his professional football career.
White’s potential return could provide the Redskins a speedy quarterback well-suited for the read-option … and diminish, undermine, really, the thousands of other former players involved in the concussion litigation.
Spend a morning in a nursing home with another Pro Football Hall of Famer who dribbles soup down his sweater and is unable to even tell you his name. Then the toll, the true one, comes alive. These aren’t pieces of paper or entries in a docket. They’re not a reality that can be dismissed with a three-page court filing. They’re real lives. Real families. Real struggles with day-to-day tasks, in too many cases, not about whether to return to the NFL.
But when we see a 27-year-old who claimed enough maladies to breed worry about his ability to navigate day-to-day life, much less play football again, return to the field, what are we supposed to think? That only casts unjust, but understandable, skepticism on claims by the 4,181 other plaintiffs.
The litigation shouldn’t be a hedge until a team comes calling with the right offer, a ploy to be dropped at the first wave of a contract. Not when at least 59 plaintiffs are dead, eight by suicide or overdose.
White’s about-face feeds the cheap line that the litigation is a cash-grab by hard-up former players. Not about health or safety or long-term consequences or any of that. Just thousands of pages of trumped-up symptoms with no more noble or needed goal than a check.
If White’s laundry list of problems is accurate, what legitimate doctor would clear him to resume football? What team would assume that liability, no matter his scrambling prowess or the records he piled up at West Virginia University? If the list — gasp — isn’t accurate, what changed since November, other than a paycheck? The alternative, of course, is that football’s toll on White wasn’t as bad as the black-and-white words want you to believe.
Perhaps the “diminished self-esteem” has more to do with not completing a pass in 13 games with the Dolphins in 2009 before they cut him the next year than head injury.
Concussions, however, are something White knows about. Back in 2009, Steelers defensive back Ike Taylor belted him out-of-bounds. Their helmets collided. White didn’t move. He was strapped to a backboard and carted off the field, helmet still on.
Now White is trying to get back in the league he claimed permanently damaged him. The excuses are gone. No more faulting the NFL’s equipment for not properly protecting him. No more pleas of ignorance about the consequences of head injuries. His name is on a 138-page lawsuit.
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