Report: At least seven former players intend to sue CFL over concussions, including 1970s star Argonaut RB Eric “The Flea” Allen

55 Yard Line

When Arland Bruce filed the first concussion lawsuit against the CFL July 16, it seemed likely more would follow given the reportedly large numbers of CFL alumni suffering from concussion-related issues, the threats from some alumni and the litigation over concussions in the NFL and NCAA. Now, it appears that's starting to happen. Terry Ott, who broke the news of Bruce's lawsuit at The Concussion Blog earlier this month, wrote Thursday that former Argonaut running back Eric "The Flea" Allen is preparing legal action against the CFL, and that others are set to join in:

Eric “The Flea” Allen starred with the Toronto Argonauts between 1973-1975, and as noted previously here in Sneer and Loafing, is suffering the effects of what is alleged to be serious brain damage caused by multiple concussions while he was playing for the Toronto team, which at the time, was the highest profile and richest franchise in the league.

In an interview, Allen’s mother Rebecca Young, 84, said that Eric’s condition had declined precipitously in the last 6 weeks to the point that her son “can hardly walk now,” even with the aid of a walker, and spends most of the day in bed suffering from vertigo and has recently developed bouts of incontinence as well as suffering from worsening memory and mood issues.

Mrs. Young said that she had recently been visited by Canadian lawyer Robyn Wishart who Mrs. Young said will be representing Mr. Allen in a legal action against the Canadian Football League, allegedly for concussion injuries Allen says he suffered while playing in the league for the Toronto Argos for the three seasons in question.

“She said she was going to do her best to get (us) some help,” said Mrs.Young, of lawyer Wishart. “I hope it’s soon…I’m so tired,” added Mrs. Young, who as the principal caregiver for her debilitated son has a multiple hour drive to take Mr. Allen for treatment at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Ms. Wishart was traveling and did not return telephone calls for comment about Allen’s condition. ...

Furthermore, according to a source speaking on condition of anonymity, there are now at least a total of 7 former CFL players, some who played over 50 years ago, currently, or intending to, bring suit against the league for concussion injury.

While there doesn't appear to be a lawsuit filed yet in Allen's case (unlike the Bruce case), his family's intentions to sue the CFL seem very real, and his case could potentially prove even more of a tipping point than Bruce's. The Bruce case carried some unusual elements, including his allegations that team doctors violated the league's own recent concussion protocol, and it came against the background of him being essentially drummed out of the CFL over homophobic comments. None of that should diminish the severity of Bruce's allegations whatsoever, but it does mean that his case is far from the typical one that might pop up, and it's particularly different from the cases players like Allen (who played long before modern concussion protocols) would presumably have. Thus, a lawsuit from a prominent alumnus like Allen who's currently facing severe health challenges might well have more of a galvanizing effect on other long-ago players than Bruce's did. Ott's report that several other players are already intending to bring suit against the league over concussions seems credible, too, and that could turn this into an even bigger problem for the CFL.

Other players beyond Bruce suing the CFL should demonstrate just how serious of an issue this is for the league. Bruce's case and allegations are quite important on their own, but some media coverage of them has been rather dismissive, citing Bruce's history of controversy and decision to keep playing for over a full season after his 2012 concussion as reasons to downplay the suit. A suit from Allen would be much tougher to attack, and a further volley of suits from other alumni would really change the conversation about head injuries in the CFL. Concussions to past and present players remain one of the most critical issues facing this league, and while there's been substantial progress made on how the CFL identifies and treats concussions since the days of players like Allen, that doesn't do anything to address their health issues. The league's current policy (and the way it's upheld) is far from perfect, too. We'll see when the lawsuits are filed and how they turn out, but the reported wave of impending lawsuits suggests concussions are going to be a big issue for the CFL for years to come.

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