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Concussion and Football: Failures to Respond by the NFL and the Medical Profession

14 Pages Posted: 7 Jan 2013 Last revised: 27 Mar 2013

David Orentlicher

UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law

William S. David

Harvard Medical School

Date Written: January 5, 2013


The National Football League (NFL) has come under sharp criticism for its approach to the problem of concussion, and many former players have filed a lawsuit against the league.

In reviewing the response of NFL to concussion, one can easily think that the league was too slow to worry about the medical consequences of head trauma. Despite concerns being raised for many years about the risk to player health, it took until December 2009 for the NFL to advise its teams that players should not return to play or practice on the same day that they suffer a concussion.

But the NFL was not alone in viewing concussion as a relatively mild problem. Physicians also did not worry very much about the medical consequences of concussions. For decades, neurologic experts disagreed as to whether concussions could cause permanent injury, with many attributing patient symptoms to psychological issues or to the incentives created by compensation programs for people with disabling conditions.

While the NFL may have responded slowly to problems from concussion, the extent to which its response was unreasonable is unclear. If many medical experts did not worry about concussions, it is difficult to fault the NFL for not worrying either. Still, one can question the NFL’s failure to adopt concussion guidelines in the late 1990’s when they were being issued by medical experts.

Keywords: concussion, football

JEL Classification: K13, K31

Suggested Citation

Orentlicher, David and David, William S., Concussion and Football: Failures to Respond by the NFL and the Medical Profession (January 5, 2013). 8 FIU Law Review 17 (2013); Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law Research Paper No. 2013-03. Available at SSRN:

David Orentlicher (Contact Author)

UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law ( email )

4505 South Maryland Parkway
Box 451003
Las Vegas, NV 89154
United States

William David

Harvard Medical School ( email )

250 Longwood Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
United States

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