Former Chiefs defensive end Neil Smith has already joined one lawsuit against his former team regarding its handling of concussions; now he’s joined another with a new target — the NFL Players Association.
Smith is one of three players who filed a state lawsuit Thursday in St. Louis Circuit Court, alleging the union withheld information regarding the long-term effects of traumatic brain injuries and failed to protect its players.
“We believe that the most important resource in the NFL is the players, and the most essential part of a player’s body is the brain,” said Kansas City-based attorney Kevin E.J. Regan. “Considering the millions of dollars received as dues from NFLPA members, the NFLPA did not do enough to protect its members from traumatic brain injury.”
Smith, who is also one of several former Chiefs who joined a worker’s compensation lawsuit against the club last December, is joined in this suit by former Blue Springs running back Ladell Betts, who played in the NFL from 2002 to 2010, and linebacker Anthony Davis, who played from 1993 to 2000.
Two other players, former Lawrence Free State and Iowa star Christian Ballard and Gregory Westbrooks, are a part of separate lawsuit filed by the same attorneys against the NFLPA in U.S. District Court on Thursday, which is believed to be the first-ever federal class-action lawsuit against the union.
Ballard played defensive end in 2011 and 2012, while Westbrooks played linebacker from 1975 and 1981.
The NFLPA released a statement Friday regarding the federal lawsuit, saying it has “no merit” and that it intends to defend itself against the allegations.
“The NFLPA has made the health and safety of its members a priority and the advancements in professional football on concussion education, prevention and treatment are a result of our efforts,” the statement read.
The allegations in both lawsuits are essentially the same, claiming the NFLPA has for decades been aware of the evidence linking repetitive traumatic brain injuries to long-term neurological problems but ignored the risks to players and failed to alert players to the issue.
The lawsuits claim that throughout their careers, all five players sustained multiple repetitive traumatic head impacts and concussions during practices and games, which were never acknowledged and never treated, despite paying thousands of dollars in dues under the belief the union would protect their best interests.
“In the truest sense of the word, the NFLPA is not a union because a union looks after its members,” said Bob Langdon, another attorney in the case. “NFL players could have avoided or mitigated the dangers of their sport had the NFLPA provided them with truthful and accurate information.”
In addition, the suits also argue that the NFLPA instead deliberately concealed the results of the studies that had been commissioned for the players’ protection, and that the NFLPA supplied false and misleading information regarding the risk of harm and engaged in a long-running course of fraudulent and negligent conduct.
The NFLPA and other defendants will have approximately 30 days to respond.
Smith, a five-time Pro Bowl selection for the Chiefs, recorded the second-most sacks in team history (86 1/2) during his nine-year stint in Kansas City, second only to longtime teammate Derrick Thomas, who recorded 126 1/2 sacks.
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