CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — Leonard Marshall is third in all-time sacks for the New York Giants, a two-time Super Bowl champion, three-time pro-bowler and was twice voted the NFL defensive lineman of the year.
“Pro football shaped my life,” Marshall said. “I had accomplished everything that I thought that I could accomplish.”
He retired from the game at age 33. Ten years later, Marshall says something was off.
“I began to notice things with my behavior,” Marshall said. “I began to notice things were slipping and I began to notice my patience was running thin with people I loved and cared about. I didn’t quite understand it.”
“I came home and he said I had an episode and I called the local authorities and I felt I wanted to kill myself,” said Leonard’s wife Lisa. “He couldn’t express it. He just felt it. He felt like his world was crumbling and I couldn’t understand why because it came out of the blue.”
In 2013, he volunteered to have his brain studied by a team at UCLA using PET scans to look for evidence of CTE, a progressive degenerative brain disease found in people with a history of repeated head trauma.
They concluded that Marshall did have CTE.
“Back in my era football, we didn’t talk about concussions,” Marshall said. “There was no warning whatsoever. I mean, I knew when I signed up the National Football League that I would get beaten, battered and bruised, but what I didn’t know was that traumatic brain injury will become so prevalent.”
The NFL was aware at least as early as 1994. The year Marshall retired.
It was then that NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue created the mild traumatic brain injury committee.
Asked about it publicly at the time, he dismissed the problem, calling concussions ‘one of these pack journalism issues,’ and said that the number of concussions is “relatively small.”
Today, Marshall is one of over 20,000 former NFL players who have registered in the NFL concussion settlement.
Those diagnosed with ALS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and dementia are eligible to receive a monetary award. CTE, however, was excluded from the settlement.
Marshall’s attorney, Jason Luckasevic, filed the first cases against the NFL, and originated the NFL concussion litigation.
“Leonard had started with the process of confirming that he had CTE through UCLA,” Luckasevic said. “We had seen some other doctors prior to the settlement becoming effective. He said ‘look, he has many neurodegenerative issues’.”
Diagnosed with dementia and Parkinson’s disease, Marshall filed the claim with the NFL concussion settlement.
In 2017, his claim for Parkinson’s disease was approved entitling him to a monetary reward of $1.9 million.
But months later, the NFL claims administrator reviewed his case and reversed the award stating that his Parkinson’s diagnosis was “not generally consistent with the settlement criteria because his condition was quote, ‘stable,’ not characteristic of the progressive decline of Parkinson’s.” And also because “alternative explanations are likely,” namely CTE.
“Just like that,” Marshall said. “And then I had to see another set of doctors, and I’m like, what kind of game is?”
Marshall went through the testing again.
“And in the process of seeing those doctors, his numerous psychological tests somehow improve, but the reasoning and rationale that they did is because they applied race based normative data to Leonard,” Luckasevic said.
The settlement agreement negotiated by the NFL required the neuropsychologist to apply the race based norms, which is to say they adjusted Marshall’s results because he is black. His examination results stated very clearly, all scores below are demographically adjusted based on Mr. Marshall’s age, education, gender and race.
The NFL in June said they would end the controversial practice referred to as race norming, a practice that made it harder for black retirees to show a deficit and qualify for an award. The claims administrator would not comment on Marshall’s claim to NewsNation.
“Makes me feel like… I don’t even want to say the explicit word,” Marshall said. “I think you’ll get the gist of my drift with that. It hurts.”
“When race is used to differentiate between people the same group organization that’s a civil rights violation and needs to be investigated,” Luckasevic said.
Chris Seeger, the attorney who negotiated the settlement on behalf of the players, toured the country in 2017, singing its praises.
“I think it’s really, really good,” Seeger said. “It accomplishes the goal we set out to achieve from day one, which was: to get help to the players and their families who need it…now.”
Seeger also initially said he saw no evidence of racial bias in the administration of the settlement fund, but recently pivoted and apologized for any pain the program has caused. He also said those with the diagnosis prior to 2017 would be paid.
“If you have a diagnosis of a neurocognitive or neuromuscular problem before that date, and it was done by a board certified legitimate doctor, those diagnosis will be honored in the settlement,” Seeger said.
But that’s not what happened with Marshall. Seeger declined to comment citing recent gag order in case.
“This isn’t a settlement,” Luckasevic said. “This is a claims process that less than 5% of the former players have only been paid. I truly believe that the attorney general’s office or the Department of Justice needs to look at what’s going on here.”
In the seven years since the settlement was created, the NFL reports 20,558 registered class members. Just over 3,200 claim packages received. Less than 1,300 players have been paid.
Yet, attorney Chris Seeger, who negotiated the settlement, has been awarded at least $64 million by the judge presiding over this case.
“Why is there unfairness to these former players?,” Luckasevic said. “Why is everybody getting paid but these former players?”
“It’s obvious it’s a broken system,” Marshall said. “It’s obvious that something has failed here.”
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