Retired Tampa Bay Buccaneers great Jimmie Giles, enshrined last year in the Ring of Honor, has filed suit against the team over concussions suffered during his NFL career.
The complaint, filed Tuesday in Hillsborough Circuit Court, seeks a jury trial. Though thousands of veteran NFL players have sued the league in the past several years because of injuries they received on the field, this is the first lawsuit that also names teams as defendants.
Giles' troubles after his playing days have included bum knees, degenerative discs in his back and neck and memory problems.
He told The Tampa Tribune in 2010 that he suffered a dozen concussions while playing pro ball. At the time, he said he would not have played the game if he had known the physical consequences.
He says post-football ailments forced him to abandon a career as a financial planner.
"All of the sudden, one day, man, I couldn't remember where in the heck I was," he said in a 2010 interview. "I had to give that business up because it required a lot of thinking. I'm dealing with people … and their lives and fortunes."
Giles and two other former professional football players filing the complaint maintain the concussions they suffered on the playing field are responsible for long-term health problems.
Besides Giles, other plaintiffs include Arron Sears, a Bucs offensive lineman from 2007 to 2009; Calvin and Henrietta Sears Woods, Sears' parents, with whom he lives now; and Donald Smith, a former Bucs player from 1988 to 1990, who also played with the Buffalo Bills in 1990 and the Miami Dolphins in 1991.
Giles, 57, one of two former players and a coach enshrined in the Ring of Honor, played with the Bucs from 1978 to 1986. He also played with the Detroit Lions in 1986, the Philadelphia Eagles from 1987 to 1989. Before coming to the Bucs he played the 1977 season for the Houston Oilers, now the Tennessee Titans.
Named as defendants are the NFL and Riddell Sports Group, a helmet manufacturer. Besides the Bucs, other teams named in the suit include the Dolphins, Lions, Eagles and Oilers/Titans.
The complaint said the defendants were negligent because they never told the players about the long-term effects of concussions and other head trauma during their pro careers.
The players are looking to recover damages caused by their injuries and blamed the defendants for failing "to take effective action to protect players and/or failure to inform players of the true risks associated with concussions, brain injuries and brain trauma."
The complaint says that for nearly a century, concussions have been linked to brain damage and long-term neurological problems.
The NFL, and the teams named in the complaint, "rather than warn its players that they may risk permanent brain damage if they returned to play football in the NFL too soon after sustaining a concussion, actively deceived the players and caused the players to believe that concussions … did not present life-altering risks,'' the suit states.
Brian McCarthy, spokesman for the NFL, said the league has not yet seen the lawsuit.
"The NFL and its clubs have long made player safety a priority and continue to do so," he said in an email Wednesday night. "Any allegation that the NFL or its clubs intentionally sought to mislead players has no merit.
"It stands in contrast to the league's actions to better protect players and advance the science and medical understanding of the management and treatment of concussions."
The complaint singled out the Bucs, saying the team "engaged in and committed extreme and outrageous conduct, intentional infliction of severe emotional distress … against the plaintiffs.
"The Tampa Bay Buccaneers should have been aware of the players' limitations and previous injuries….and should have prohibited the plaintiffs from reentering a game or practice where physical contact was taking place, after sustaining a concussion."
Bucs' spokesman Jonathan Grella declined to comment.
"We'll defer to the league," he said Wednesday.
Sears, 27, now lives with his parents in Alabama. He was a second-round pick of the Bucs in 2007. He started 31 games at guard in his first two seasons but missed the 2009 seasons because of what team officials called a "personal matter." Tampa Bay released him in 2010.
In April 2011, Sears was released from jail after agreeing to enter an 18-month mental health pre-trial intervention program. Sears was charged with battery on a law enforcement officer from an incident in June 2010 at Tampa General Hospital, where he was hospitalized under the Baker Act.
After Sears failed to appear for a court hearing, he was found wandering on a busy road in November 2010 and arrested on an outstanding warrant. He was released on $2,000 bail. When Sears missed another court appearance in December 2010, a warrant was issued and Sears was arrested in February and held without bond until he was released in April 2011.
The suit says Sears "suffers from various neurological conditions and has numerous symptoms related to head trauma." He has "almost lost all total function and is unable to care for himself and cannot take care of his day-to-day activities" because he suffered "repetitive and traumatic impacts to his head and concussions on multiple occasions while playing professional football in the NFL," it says.
The lawsuit also alleges the defendants
deliberately created "false scientific studies" and spread "misinformation concerning the cause and effect related between brain trauma in NFL games, and practices and latent neurodegenerative disorders and diseases."
The plaintiffs are represented by former-player-turned-lawyer Charles E. Emanuel. Emanuel could not be reached for comment Wednesday.