During the pregame show before February's Super Bowl in New Orleans, Deion Sanders shared his thoughts about the thousands of former football players filing concussion lawsuits against the National Football League.
"The game is a safe game," the television analyst and Hall of Fame cornerback said. "I don't buy all these guys coming back with these concussions. I'm not buying all that. Half these guys are trying to make money off the deal."
What Sanders didn't say was that more than two years earlier he had filed a workers' compensation claim in California, alleging head trauma and other injuries incurred while playing for the Dallas Cowboys.
The case is pending, but in November 2010, Sanders was determined to be 86% disabled by the Division of Workers' Compensation, case documents show. Four doctors who examined the former star diagnosed more than a dozen medical conditions, including cognitive impairment and behavioral/emotional disorder. The review also said Sanders suffered from arthritis and "arousal disorder," a sleep impairment.
Sanders is one of a host of current NFL employees, including at least six other NFL Network analysts and dozens of assistant coaches and team personnel, who have made such claims, The Times has found.
The filings from its own employees underscore the depth and complexity of a head injury problem that the NFL is trying hard to put to rest. As the league opens its season this week, it's pushing legislation in Sacramento that would halt most workers' comp claims by athletes. That would dramatically limit its financial exposure to concussions and other brain trauma, which have been linked to dementia and other debilitating illnesses.
Last week, the league agreed to pay $765 million to settle federal lawsuits filed by more than 4,500 former players and their families. Those suits alleged that the athletes were not properly informed of the risks of brain injury in professional football.
By some estimates, it could cost NFL teams significantly more — perhaps as much as $1 billion — to resolve the nearly 4,000 workers' compensation claims pending against them in California, many of which allege brain trauma.
"Those kinds of cases are driving their concerns," said Frank Neuhauser, executive director of the Center for the Study of Social Insurance at UC Berkeley. Resolving the most serious cases, involving dementia or Alzheimer's disease, "can be millions of dollars and can involve 10, 20, 30 years of medical care and income support."
The legislation, AB 1309, is expected to face a state Senate vote in the next few days, after passing the Assembly in May. If approved and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, it would exclude professional football, baseball, ice hockey, basketball and soccer players from making most new claims if they did not play for California teams.
The filings by Sanders and other NFL employees were found by The Times as part of an analysis of state workers' compensation data. It found that since 2006 almost 4,400 athletes had filed claims here alleging serious brain or head injuries, with nearly 80% of them coming from former football players.
More than 2,300 former football players with claims in California are also plaintiffs in the federal concussion lawsuits, the Times analysis found. Among them are numerous athletes who committed suicide — including Dave Duerson and Ray Easterling — and were subsequently diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a severe brain disease linked to repeated blows to the head.
Sanders could not be reached for comment. His agent, Reed Bergman, said he had no comment, as did Sanders' workers' compensation attorney, Mel Owens. A spokesman for NFL Network also declined to discuss the claims.
In addition to Sanders, four former players who now serve as on-air talent for NFL Network — Brian Baldinger, Bucky Brooks, Willie McGinest and Darren Sharper — have claims pending that allege head or brain trauma. NFL Network analysts Marshall Faulk and Michael Irvin also filed such claims and received cash settlements from their former teams in 2011.
At least 43 current NFL assistant coaches or front office personnel have also made injury claims against their former teams, the Times review found. Among them are New York Jets assistant head coach Anthony Lynn, New England Patriots linebackers coach Pepper Johnson and the senior personnel executive for the Green Bay Packers, Alonzo Highsmith.
All but three of those filings, which were made in the last six years, allege brain or head trauma, among other injuries.
An additional 15 former players now working for NFL teams, including the general manager of the Oakland Raiders, the offensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings and the defensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans, made workers' compensation claims in California before 2006, data show.