The Toronto Argonauts didn't make much of an on-field impact in the 1970s and early 1980s, finishing last in the East eight times in the 10 seasons from 1972-1981, but players from those teams appear to be at the forefront of the growing concussion litigation against the CFL. On July 31, it came out that former Argonauts' running back Eric Allen (who played for the team from 1972-1975 following a remarkable career at Michigan State) was amongst a group of seven former players preparing lawsuits against the league in the wake of Arland Bruce's lawsuit. Another former Argonauts' running back, Phil Colwell (who only played with the team in 1981, but suffered a concussion that wound up ending his career while with them), has also been counted amongst the players planning to sue. Now, Terry Ott reports at The Concussion Blog that yet another former Argonauts' running back, Terry Metcalf (who played for the team from 1978-1980 in between stints in the NFL), has retained Canadian counsel and plans to sue:
Metcalf retired from football in 1981 and is now suffering from what he says are major health deficits as the result of multiple concussions suffered while he was playing for the Argonauts.
Mr. Metcalf, who now resides in Seattle said in an interview that the last concussion he received was in a 1980 Toronto home game and “was a pretty good shot.”
“I don’t remember finishing the game,” said Metcalf, adding that he categorized his concussion treatment at the time as “neglectful, nothing, really.”
Now Metcalf, who teaches kindergarten, complains of chronic ringing in his ears, memory issues, and says he has a “50% loss of feeling in (his) right hand.” Mr. Metcalf said his symptoms had been noted when he had been examined by doctors in 2011 for the NFLPA class action suit against the NFL for concussion related injury.
Mr. Metcalf has retained a Canadian lawyer and is intending through counsel to file suit against the CFL for concussion injury.
Metcalf, 63, also complains about his mood saying that he had been “quite depressed in his life” and that he was lately “grumpier, and you can ask my wife about that.”
One issue that does come to mind with Metcalf's planned suit is that his career took place in both the NFL and the CFL. He played with the NFL's St. Louis Cardinals (yes, there was a football team by that name too, before they moved to Arizona in 1988) from 1973-1977 and was incredibly successful there, setting a league record with 2,462 combined yards in 1975. He also returned to the NFL in 1981 with Washington after his CFL stint. Separating out the concussions he took in the CFL and the NFL may prove difficult (and that may be an issue for other players, too; just about everyone in the CFL came up through the NCAA or CIS and likely took plenty of hits there, and many players have gone back and forth between the NFL and CFL). However, that doesn't mean Metcalf's planned suit has no merit; if he can show he suffered concussions during his time in the CFL and wasn't properly treated, he would seem to have a case.
It's remarkable that three guys who played the same position with the same team over the course of a decade are all now planning to sue the league over concussions. However, there are a few reasons that could help explain that. For one thing, running back is one of the most punishing positions in professional football, and it was a lot tougher to be a CFL running back in the 1970s and 1980s than it is now. From 1970-1979, both teams in a typical CFL game recorded a total of 54.3 rushing attempts (27.2 per team), and from 1980-1989, both teams recorded 43.4 (21.7 per team). That number's dropped more and more since then, to 38.7 from 2010-2013 (19.4 per team). That's a lot of rushing attempts back in the day, and most rushing attempts (everything except plays that end in touchdowns or running backs stepping out of bounds) end with big collisions, unlike most pass plays (which can also fall incomplete or be intercepted).
In the CFL, too, RBs are usually kept in and asked to block in passing situations, adding yet more contact. Moreover, the running back is consistently making contact; each individual linebacker or defensive back doesn't hit someone on every play, and each quarterbacks and receiver doesn't get hit every play. There's obviously a lot of contact on the offensive and defensive lines as well, which is why we've seen a lot of lawsuits from players at those positions in the NFL, but it's often with less momentum. Thus, it's not all that surprising to see a wave of running backs leading the lawsuits here.
It is more unusual that all these lawsuits are coming from former Argos, though, and from guys who played for the team in a relatively short period. That raises questions about the approach the team took to treating concussions in those days, especially considering that all of the players mentioned have brought that up. Metcalf called it "neglectful, nothing, really," Allen said "I don’t think [the team doctor] looked at me" in situations where he was concussed and returned in the same game, and Colwell's case is particularly problematic:
Walking unsteadily, Colwell was led to the sidelines. Later, he said, he felt "like a vegetable." He didn't return to the game, won by the Blue Bombers 43-12.
He boarded the team bus to the airport and flew back to Toronto with a blinding headache and still feeling woozy.
He says he was examined by a team doctor and then was allowed to get in his car, parked at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto, and drive back to his home in Kitchener by himself the same night. "All the doctor said to me was, 'Don't go to sleep.' So I paced my room the whole night," Colwell says in an interview.
More than 30 years later, Colwell is still incredulous he was allowed to drive home mere hours after being knocked unconscious. "Can you even imagine?" he says.
Colwell says he really had no idea what had happened to him on the field that day until he watched the game film several days later and saw the train wreck of a tackle that left him unconscious.
To this day, he can't recall when he rejoined the Argos for the remainder of the season. He is sure of one thing — he was never the same after the knockout in the 'Peg.
Those cases raise major questions about the Argonauts' concussion management during this timeframe, and suggest that other former Argonauts may wind up coming forward too. Of course, though, it seems likely that primitive concussion treatment wasn't limited to just one team and just one era. It's going to be well worth watching this situation to see who else comes forward and how many lawsuits wind up being filed against the CFL.