Irv Muchnick on the Other Dave Duerson Story

Aug 19, 2011

Posted with the express consent of Irv Muchnick:

Football Media, Courts Still Not Tackling Lesson of Dave Duerson Suicide

by Irvin Muchnick‚ Aug. 19‚ 2011
Six months after Dave Duerson put a bullet through his own chest, the annual national brain trauma toll mounts again, from the National Football League all the way down to the peewees. Meanwhile, the mentally flabby sports media continue putting out the same sugar-coated message: that we should become more “aware” about concussions, and that pro football players should emulate Duerson by donating their brains for research – as if Duerson – who spent his late life denying others’ claims of concussion syndrome – personally invented Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy (CTE).
Here’s a better idea: Next month, in federal court in Maryland, there will be a pretrial hearing in a case against the NFL retirement plan by Andrew Stewart, who played linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers and two other teams from 1989 to 1993, and whose application for increased disability benefits had been rejected. Stewart’s lawyer wants the court to examine the work of Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Players Retirement Plan’s (EDITOR’S NOTE: Corrected from the original post) joint owner/players’ union Board of Trustees – which included Duerson.
Alex Marvez of, who is doing as good a job as any mainstream journalist on the concussion story’s off-the-field aspects, broke the Stewart lawsuit development (Click HERE to read his post).
Last month Judge William D. Quarles Jr. denied Stewart’s motion for summary judgment against the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle Retirement Plan. But that motion was filed in March, two months before the announcement that Duerson’s autopsy showed he had CTE, the now-infamous football-triggered brain disorder.
If there is any justice, the Duerson suicide will be a game-changer in the cases of Stewart and others. But that won’t happen until the football media roust themselves from their Duerson fairy tale and tell the real back story of his role in the sordid history of sports concussions.
Let me emphasize that though it is tempting to churn the internal politics of the NFLPA, that is not where the public’s interest lies. Marvez reports allegations that Duerson might have soft-pedaled his advocacy on the disability board in part because he harbored ambitions to succeed the late Gene Upshaw as executive director of the NFLPA (the job wound up going to DeMaurice Smith). I’m not sure of the veracity of each and every one of those charges. But I’ve had plenty of experience with bad, vision-free, power-brokering unions, and all the evidence suggests that the NFLPA is another example of them.
Still, the fundamental case for reopening the files of retired players with rejected disability claims during Duerson’s tenure need not brood over conflicts of interest, breaches of fiduciary duty, and other legal arcana. Duerson was going crazy from CTE and he was publicly tamping down the conversation about occupation-related concussion syndrome. That simple set of facts on the ground should be enough in the court of public opinion.
Why does this all matter? Because the NFL sits atop a $9-billion-a-year marketing empire which is spreading brain disease to American boys and men. And the league’s whole strategy is to shift responsibility and public health costs.
Next week Chris Nowinski, of Boston’s Sports Legacy Institute and the Center for the Study of CTE, is participating in a symposium by a group called the Chicago Concussion Coalition, which will announce the “first-in-the-nation comprehensive concussion program.” Well, great, but pardon me while I wait to hear details of the full curriculum of this program. We have 120,000 amateur football spinal-cord injuries a year, according to a report last week by CBS, as well as an unmeasured and largely unmeasurable mental health deficit from youth football concussions and systematic subconcussive blows.
The Nowinski group’s literature says the Access Community Health Network, which is described as “the largest federally funded provider of community health care,” will announce that it is providing “primary care for all Chicago public schools student athletes who are identified as potential concussion candidates as determined within a series of clinics.”
My own opinion is that our tax dollars should be going to things like education, prenatal care, and abortion counseling – not to subsidies of the NFL circus. Unless my figures are outdated, Commissioner Roger Goodell’s beneficent spreader of good cheer has donated a grand total of $20 million to mostly skewed brain trauma research, and it is letting its partner, the Riddell helmet company, twist in the wind while the feds pursue their unambitious probe of overhyped claims for helmet safety.
What football fans and critics alike need is a handle on the costs and accountability for our current crisis. The truth about Dave Duerson is a good place to start.
Irvin Muchnick is author of CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death (2009) and WRESTLING BABYLON: Piledriving Tales of Drugs, Sex, Death, and Scandal (2007). He is a widely published magazine journalist and has appeared on forums as diverse as Fox News’ “O’Reilly Factor,” National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air with Terry Gross,” and ESPN’s “Up Close.” Muchnick is lead respondent in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case for freelance writers’ rights, Reed Elsevier v. Muchnick.
BeyondChron contributor Irvin Muchnick has launched his new website and blog “Concussion Inc.”. You can also find Irv on Twitter at

3 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Larry Kaminski
    August 19th, 2011 at 7:09 pm #

    Larry Kaminski


    I received a call from my CA Workers Comp legal team. Based on the findings, I have been dealing with serious issues for many years. We will now see what happens now after discussion with the opposition.

    What really upsets me is that the NFL disability committee told me I had NO health issues and would not even discuss my claims. I am sure there will be a legal team to work on this claim that will now cost my former team big dollars. How does the NFLPA defend this? What happens now with the new CBA?

    Do those of us who have been denied disability and forced to use Medicare and personal funds have any chance to get the dollars we deserve?

    Why can’t these guys get it right?

    Larry Kaminski
    Denver Broncos
    1966 – 1973

  2. Dave Pear
    August 24th, 2011 at 3:08 pm #

    Dave Pear

    Dear De Smith,

    Why does the disability plan fail to send a copy of medical evidence they have generated before issuing an unfavorable decision?

    You seem to have said all the right things since taking the job as Executive Director but you never follow through. Doesn’t saying the right thing without doing the right thing make one a hypocrite? Or worse?

    When will pre-1993 players receive justice with a fraudulent disability plan that continues to violate ERISA Law?

    When will pre-1993 players finally receive a livable pension?

    Retired football players continue to wait for your answer.

    Dave & Heidi Pear

  3. B.L.
    September 1st, 2011 at 8:42 pm #

    I am not a football player. I am a woman who was injured in a car accident in 1983. I was 26 years old and my life was forever altered. I stopped for a train and was hit from behind by a driver who was not paying attention. I was ejected into the top of my car. No seat belts on as there was no seat belt law back then.

    I fought it out with Burlington Northern and the other guy’s insurance company for many years. Six attorneys to my one. And all I received was $25,000 after attorney fees. Which is long gone.

    My heart goes out to all of you players. Unless somebody has experienced brain injury and the losses that go with it, they don’t know how much courage it takes to face each day.

    I was so sad to read about Dave’s [Duerson] suicide and the text message he sent to his family asking his brain be donated for research. He tried to help himself with his death. And others with his request. What a wonderful man! I understand how you can be hyper aware that something is wrong and no matter how hard you try, you can’t make it go away or make it right again. But you have to go on living anyhow.

    I’m writing this in hopes it will help people understand how devastating brain injury is. So they will be extra careful with themselves and their loved ones. We need education about engaging in risky behaviors, especially for teens. And athletes in high school and college. And, of course, the NFL. There is so much that could and does need to be done.

    I was injured when my daughter was one year old. The struggles I had during her growing years as a single mother with brain injuries was personally tragic. I needed help. Nobody really understood what I was going through. My daughter is almost thirty and hasn’t talked much to me for fifteen years. I cry every day and my heart is totally shattered because she won’t talk to me. She doesn’t get what happened. But I understand that I couldn’t be the mother she needed. And I am still living on disability making the equivalent of $6.73 per hour, so I can’t really make a show of strength over time. That she could understand.

    Because of that, I am very sympathetic to the players who gave us so much in the form of entertainment. And who made others so wealthy at the cost of their very minds and bodies. Players who must now face difficult years fighting for pensions. Or – if they have wealth – who do not function in their minds as they would have if not for their injuries.

    This blog is a magnificent effort on behalf of all people with brain injuries. Thank you so much for your efforts and keep up the good work!

    Yakima, Washington

    It is wonderful to see you wage this battle in a public way. To use your celebrity as a means to help with this difficult to understand issue.