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.
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.”
The NFL didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the suit.
The case is Jason Alford v. The NFL Player Disability & Survivor Benefit Plan, 23-cv-00358, US District Court, District of Maryland.
Photo: Jets Safety Eric Smith makes a stop against the Washington Redskin in 2011. Photographer: Al Pereira/Getty Images
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