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Duerson’s family sues NFL, claims it concealed concussion effects

Former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerstestifies Capitol Hill Washingt2007.  (AP Photo/Susan Walsh file)

Former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington in 2007. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, file)

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Updated: March 25, 2012 8:14AM

The family of late Chicago Bears Super Bowl champ Dave Duerson is suing the National Football League, blaming the organization for his 2011 suicide.

The suit against the league and helmet-maker Riddell, Inc. accuses the NFL of knowing the harmful effects of the repeated concussions Duerson suffered on the field but concealing them from the career safety — during his football career and even after, leading to a mental health spiral, and eventually, his suicide.

“My family and I seek action against the NFL and Riddell to further investigate their handlings of concussions during my father’s playing years,” Tregg Duerson said at a Thursday news conference in Chicago. “If they knowingly failed to inform and implement proper concussion safety procedures, then their indifference was the epitome of injustice. The inactions of the past inevitably lead to the demise and death of my father.”

An NFL spokesman in New York said the league had yet to see the lawsuit.

“Dave Duerson was an outstanding football player and citizen who made so many positive contributions but unfortunately encountered serious personal challenges later in his life,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement. “We sympathize with the Duerson family and continue to be saddened by this tragedy.”

Duerson, who starred at Notre Dame, played safety in the NFL first with the Bears and later the New York Giants, retiring in 1993.

Tregg Duerson said his father’s decline began at age 40 — a decade before the elder Duerson’s death.

At the time he was a “well-mannered, measured man” successful in life and business.

But as the years wore on, he would have trouble at home — including a well-publicized domestic violence arrest in 2007 — and his finances were in shambles.

“He had problems with temper and anger and memory loss,” Tregg Duerson said.

The former Bears safety died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest in February 2011 at his Florida home.

Duerson told relatives that he wanted his brain to be studied after his death believing “there’s something going on,” the suit states.

A post-mortem study revealed he was suffering from progressive, advanced brain damage, referred to as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, which caused or contributed to Duerson’s death, according to the lawsuit.

The suit blasts the NFL for “failing to prevent, diagnose and/or properly treat” Duerson’s concussions in 1988, 1990 and 1992 as well as undocumented concussions throughout his career.

The suit also alleges the NFL didn’t warn Duerson that “playing through concussions could, and would, cause permanent brain damage.”

The suit further criticizes the NFL’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee — an advisory group formed in 1994 — for allegedly misleading players and retirees about the long-term health effects of concussions.

“It was a conspiracy — it was a knowing ploy to divert retired players from seeking the benefits they were entitled to,” the Duerson family attorney William Gibbs told reporters during Thursday’s news conference.

To that end, the NFL “embarked upon a propaganda scheme designed to mislead NFL players and retirees” about the long-term effects of concussions and other brain trauma, the suit states.

The lawsuit also names helmet maker Riddell, Inc. as a defendant. The suit alleges its helmets did not adequately protect players from concussions.

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