Ten ex-players sue NFL over disability program

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Willis McGahee is one of 10 former NFL players suing the league, its board of trustees and commissioner Roger Goodell in federal court over its benefits plan, accusing them Thursday of a number of “unscrupulous tactics” to wrongfully avoid paying out disability claims.

The class-action lawsuit was filed in Baltimore in the U.S. District Court of Maryland and lays out what’s described as an “overly aggressive and disturbing pattern” of denying benefits for specious, subjective reasons, making it far more difficult for retired players to receive health care they need after playing in the NFL.

McGahee, a two-time Pro Bowl running back who played for the Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns in his 10-year NFL career, is now 41 but told reporters in a virtual news conference that his physician said his arthritis comparable to an 80-year-old.

McGahee said he tried for six years to receive disability payments from the NFL and was denied last year.

“It’s time for me to step up, it’s time for other players to step up and say something,” McGahee told reporters. “We are not just going to sit back and just let it all fall down on us and take the beating.”

The other plaintiffs are Jason Alford, Daniel Loper, Michael McKenzie, Jamize Olawale, Alex Parsons, Charles Sims, Eric Smith, Joey Thomas and Lance Zeno.

Smith played seven seasons as a defensive back for the New York Jets and said in the lawsuit that he had 13 documented traumatic brain injuries in that time.

Smith shared Thursday that he has blacked out and woken up bleeding with “holes in the wall.”

“My wife and kids are crying,” he said. “I went down a dark path.”

The lawsuit is notable at the end of a season that saw Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa suffer multiple documented concussions — including one just days after he was cleared too soon from the league’s concussion protocol — and Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffer cardiac arrest on the field of a game that was eventually abandoned.

One of the lawyers representing the players is Christopher Seeger, who in 2012 worked on the class-action lawsuit in which ex-players accused the NFL of not sufficiently protecting them from concussions and their related dangers. That case has been settled and has paid out more than $1 billion to affected retirees.

NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy told Reuters in a statement that the disability plan in question has provided more than $330 million to eligible players, and that their standards were developed via consultation with experts in occupational, mental and physical health.

“The NFL-NFLPA disability plan is fair and administered by a professional staff overseen by a board comprised of an equal number of appointees of the NFL Players Association and the league, which includes retired players,” McCarthy wrote.

“This board reviews the activities of the office and operation of the benefit program, including every contested application for benefits, to ensure that retired players who are entitled to disability benefits receive them as intended.”

–Field Level Media

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