Three days before the Super Bowl, the National Football League faces a proposed class action lawsuit by former players who claim its disability plan prevents them from getting the treatment they need.
Ten former pros allege in the suit, filed Thursday in federal court in Maryland, that they must run a byzantine obstacle course of arbitrary challenges to their claims, including for severe neurological damage they say they sustained in a career of brutal collisions. The suit comes amid a national debate over the game’s dangers.
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The plaintiffs, who seek to represent a class of similarly affected NFL veterans, claim the league has engaged in a pattern of improperly denying them benefits. The players, including former cornerback Michael McKenzie and onetime safety Eric Smith, allege that neuropsychologists hired as part of the NFL Player Disability & Neurocognitive Benefit Plan arbitrarily denied benefits to numerous players who reported pain.
The players cite “repeated lies,” “active concealment” and “flagrant violations of the Erisa statute, regulations, and case law,” referring to the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act. They also cite “ever-shifting inconsistent and illogical interpretations of the terms of the plan” and say “reliance on conflicted advisors” has resulted in “a pattern of systematic bias against disabled NFL players.”
“Unfortunately, this is yet another example of the NFL’s betrayal of its players once we are no longer on the field and making them money,” Smith said in a statement. “Through this lawsuit, we are bringing these injustices to light and demanding the NFL fulfill its responsibilities to players rather than continue to try to dodge accountability every step of the way.”
NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said in a statement that 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.”
That 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,” McCarthy said.
The case is Jason Alford v. The NFL Player Disability & Survivor Benefit Plan, 23-cv-00358, US District Court, District of Maryland.
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