Dawson's Hall call on court detour
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With his induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame just a few weeks away, former Steelers center Dermontti Dawson is among the latest former NFL players to file suit against the league for head injuries sustained while playing professional football.
According to a suit filed July 3 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, Dawson and three other ex-Steelers -- running back Stephen Avery, wide receiver Jeff Graham and safety Jonathan Staggers -- are among 47 former players being represented by attorneys John D. Giddens and Phillip Thomas in Jackson, Miss.
The suit alleges that the league "was aware of the evidence and the risks associated with repetitive traumatic brain injuries and concussions for decades, but deliberately ignored and actively concealed the information from the Plaintiffs and all others who participated in organized football at all levels" and that the repeated injuries can lead to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE.
CTE is a degenerative brain disease associated with a history of concussions and head traumas. Researchers say it can lead to depression, erratic behaviors, memory loss and ultimately early onset dementia.
The suit cites the cases of Steelers Hall of Fame center Mike Webster and guard Terry Long -- both teammates of Dawson -- among several other NFL players who have been disabled or died by their own hand, with CTE as a culprit.
Webster died of heart failure in 2002 at the age of 50, after being mentally disabled from repeated head injuries, the suit said. Long committed suicide in '05 after battling depression which may have been brought on by CTE.
The suit does not specify injuries to Dawson nor any of the other players involved.
More than 2,600 former players and their spouses have filed suit against the NFL to date, including dozens who played all or part of their careers with the Steelers.
Dawson, 47, was a second-round draft pick of the Steelers in 1988 and he played his entire career in Pittsburgh. He started in five games at right guard as a rookie before taking over starting center duties from Webster in '89. At one point he played 170 consecutive games. A seven-time Pro Bowl and six-time first-team All-Pro selection, nagging hamstring injuries ultimately ended his career. He was released after the 2000 season and then retired.
He will be enshrined into the Hall Aug. 4 in Canton, Ohio.
Avery was with the Steelers from 1993-95, the final three seasons of his five-season NFL career.
Graham was a second-round draft for the Steelers in '91 and was with the team through the '93 season.
He played eight more seasons with the Chicago Bears, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles and San Diego Chargers.
Staggers was a fifth-round draft pick for the Steelers in '70 and played that season and the '71 season for the team before playing four more seasons with the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions.
The plaintiffs' attorneys could not be reached for comment, nor could a spokesperson for the NFL.
In response to previous lawsuits, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy has said that "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."
First Published July 13, 2012 12:00 am