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Profiting from Brain Trauma: Football Broadcaster Resigns Over Player Health Consequences

By: Allan M. Siegel

As football season begins, lingering concerns over traumatic brain injuries and long-term risks faced by players seem to subside in favor of one of the nation’s favorite pastimes. For Ed Cunningham, a former NFL player and football analyst for ESPN and ABC, however, those risks were simply too much to support, and have led to his resignation from the broadcast booth.

Cunningham, 48, made the decision to leave one of sports broadcasting’s top jobs at the prime of his career due to his growing discomfort with the damage being suffered by athletes. While a number of players have entered into early retirement over risks associated with repetitive brain injuries, Cunningham may be the first broadcaster to step away from football and vocally distance himself from a multi-billion dollar industry that, in effect, profits from brain trauma.

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The move has garnered significant attention, particularly as Cunningham has dedicated nearly his entire life to football. A Captain of the University of Washington’s 1991 national championship team and third-round draft pick in the NFL, where he played for five seasons as an offensive lineman, Cunningham has since established himself as a leading college football analyst. Known for his open criticism of reckless hits and coaching decisions that endanger the health of athletes, he has also received blowback of his own. Still, his stance against the profound and life-altering consequences players suffer as a result of their careers has always remained firm.

As Cunningham states, he could no longer be in a position that champions a sport in which athletes face substantially increased risks of suffering serious and long-term neurodegenerative conditions such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – a progressive brain disease that can have debilitating and life-altering effects on players, including early onset dementia, depression, and suicidal behavior. Cunningham stated that he’s had several teammates who have killed themselves following their careers. One teammate, Dave Duerson, was posthumously diagnosed with CTE after he committed suicide in 2011. For Cunningham, it’s truly a personal matter. “I don’t currently think the game is safe for the brain,” he says, “we have to protect these [these players].”

Increased Awareness & Support Could Prompt Change

Although football has always been known as a dangerous sport, the true scope of that danger has only been thrust into the spotlight in recent years, largely due to significant studies regarding repetitive brain trauma and long-term risks and the high profile NFL settlement with former athletes who suffered various neurological conditions as a result, they alleged, of their careers. These include dementia, Alzheimer’s, ALS, Parkinson’s disease, and CTE. In a recently published study from Boston University, researchers identified CTE in the brains of 99% of former NFL players.

Although we have learned more about the long-term risks associated with repetitive head trauma, they are certainly not surprising. Even after the NFL has admitted links between playing and injury, and more studies speak to the overwhelming likelihood of serious conditions, it seems those issues fall by the wayside when it comes time for spectators and fans to enjoy another season. With more people like Cunningham, though, it is possible that more viewers, former players, and even those currently involved in the NFL and other football organizations will take an active role in voicing their opinions, raising awareness and support, and prompting change that could protect athletes.

As Cunningham and other advocates note, these changes could include no-contact football prior to high school, limiting games and playtime for athletes (similar to a pitch count in baseball), and tougher rules at all levels that prevent unsafe hits. With new safety technology and better helmet innovation, these changes could help lead the way toward protecting players from devastating futures.

Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. has earned national recognition for our work in the brain injury field – including our designation as “Preferred Attorneys” for the DC Metro area by the Brain Injury Association of America. We continually follow news regarding concussions and brain injuries, including those involving football and other contact sports, as a means to raise awareness about the profound effects of these injuries, and to promote changes that better protect the public from preventable harms and tragedies.

If you have questions about a potential personal injury cases involving a concussion or brain injury, do not hesitate to contact us for a FREE consultation.