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Duersons’ lawsuit should bring resolution to concussion problem

In 2004 Tregg Duerssigned play football for Notre Dame while father Dave watched. Dave Duersalso played for Fighting Irish.

In 2004, Tregg Duerson signed to play football for Notre Dame while father Dave watched. Dave Duerson also played for the Fighting Irish.

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Updated: February 24, 2012 2:28AM



Tregg Duerson stayed late after the 2 p.m. news conference at the law office of Corboy & Demetrio in the Loop.

The 26-year-old son of former NFL safety Dave Duerson was still TV-ready in his dark blue suit, white shirt, light blue tie and polished business shoes. But as he gazed out the 20th-floor window at the fog rolling in from Lake Michigan, he looked pensive and, yes, sad.

‘‘It wasn’t an easy decision,’’ he said of the lawsuit he had just filed against the NFL and Riddell Sports Group, Inc., maker of helmets, for causing the brain injuries and, thus, by extension, the subsequent suicide of his dad a year ago. ‘‘But we feel our father would have wanted us to do this.’’

Tregg Duerson is representing his three siblings, and to an extent his mother, Alicia (Dave’s ex-wife), in this proceeding. And it’s not going to be fun. Memories of Dad and his self-destruction in Sunny Isles Beach, Fla. — he was found on his bed in his immaculate apartment, drapes drawn, naked, in a vast stain of blood, pistol beside him, a single bullet wound to his heart — tear at the Duersons. The NFL is going to fight this hard, bet on that. And the smear campaign against Dave Duerson, a former hard-nut players union executive, is a near certainty.

‘‘They can’t settle,’’ lead attorney Bill Gibbs says. The suit charges the super-rich NFL entertainment machine with negligence, ‘‘fraudulent concealment’’ (read, lying), ‘‘conspiring to publish and profess false information’’ (more lying). All of it having to do with hiding the facts about concussions and the brain deterioration they can cause.

The charge against Riddell is that it failed to warn players that its helmets would not, and could not, prevent concussions.

So the cannons will be fired, the big weapons rolled out. This is not what the NFL or Riddell needs. Other players are filing their own suits, some of which are class-action in nature, and nobody knows where this will end.

People could argue the Duersons are doing this for money. But money is all that can be rewarded in wrongful-death suits. You can’t send, say, the members of the former NFL Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee to prison for stating nonsense, for voicing, as Gibbs puts it, lies ‘‘parallel to those of the tobacco industry.’’ Those MTBI committee members are the ones who told the world there was little or no connection between concussions and dementia.

Though Tregg Duerson’s suit is clear, questions abound in the head-trauma arena, generally.

What sport is truly safe?

How can football, at any level, continue?

What is a participant’s duty regarding his own safety?

Can safety be morally bargained away by unions?

Should your kid play football?

Tregg, a former safety at Notre Dame like his dad, doesn’t enjoy watching football anymore because of the memories. He remembers Dave taking him off a high school field and driving to a doctor because Dave knew Tregg had a concussion.

Why did he care more about his own son than himself? ‘‘I don’t know,’’ says Tregg softly.

The Seattle-based law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP is investigating claims Riddell marketed its football helmets as being essentially concussion-proof despite having no scientific proof. That firm, as its description says, ‘‘represents workers, whistleblowers, investors and consumers in complex litigation.’’

And that might be the best way to think of the Duersons now —whistleblowers.

‘‘We don’t think that football should be abolished,’’ Gibbs says. And maybe claims like this one will force the sport to make the changes that make football reasonably safe. Say, brain-safe.

The NCAA recently denied the claims in a Chicago lawsuit that, as Bloomberg News reported, was ‘‘filed by former college football players who accuse it of profiting from athletes while neglecting those who suffer concussions.’’

Nobody wants to admit culpability for damaging an athlete’s brain, his essence, his soul, his existence. But this wound needs to be recognized and resolved, at least to a reasonable standard. And if it takes lawsuits and money and smoke over the battlefield to do it, so be it.

We can’t, in good conscience, watch and play these games without thinking about things like Dave Duerson’s ugly demise.

As Tregg says, sounding like nothing more than a son, ‘‘Our lives have changed exponentially.’’



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