Supreme Court Rejects NFL Challenge To Concussion Litigation

Marc Elliott

CHIPPEWA FLOWAGE… It was August 22, 1976 and I was out at the old Metropolitan Stadium for a Minnesota Vikings pre-season football game and I want to say that the Vikes were playing the Cincinnati Bengal’s. They had 6 pre-season tilts that year and only 2 of them were at the Met. I had a front row seat right behind the Vikings bench and childhood neighbor and family friend, Vikings Trainer Fred Zamberletti was about 40 feet away and having a bit of a busy afternoon so far that day. It was a nice sunny summer afternoon and the temp was comfortable. It was an awesome day to be out at the ballpark.

There were still a lot of rookies and extra players on the roster, and the business was quite a bit different back then. Fred was just about the entire training and physical therapy department all by himself. There was no fleet of assistants helping out and he had to work as efficiently as humanly possible most of the time. Somewhere in the 2nd quarter I think, Viking Linebacker Wally Hilgenberg had made a head-on tackle of a Bengals player. I believe it was a running back coming up the middle pretty hard. They both hit the turf but neither moved for a bit. The Bengal player eventually got up after a few moments, and then slowly, Hilgenberg got to his feet. I could see Fred locked on him, observing his movement, waiting to see how he was.

Fred was one of the most conscientious athletic trainers in the history of the NFL. Want to know one of the reasons the Vikings had the run they did during the Bud Grant years and more? Because he took care of those players probably better then just about anyone else in the business that did his kind of job. So I’m watching Wally and I’m watching Fred. Wally tried to steady himself and turned to attempt to go back to the huddle. He went 8 to 10 feet and dropped like a ton of bricks. I could see after about the 3rd step that he wasn’t looking too good and was in some sort of difficulty. Fred was on the way immediately. Right when it looked like he was going to attempt to get up again Fred stopped him. He had Hilgenberg catch his breath and slow himself down before attempting to get him up and toward the bench. He finally regained his feet and a couple of guys from the bench came and assisted him off of the field. There was a pretty serious look of concern on Fred’s face as he checked Hilgenberg over. I can’t recall if he re-entered the game that day, I know he probably tried. It was a meaningless pre-season game though so what was the point….

At the forefront of sports news today was an announcement that the United States Supreme Court has rejected a challenge by the NFL regarding a concussion settlement suit brought against the league by roughly 20,000 former players that entered into the litigation seeking compensation and medical care relative to severe head trauma injury suffered during their playing days in the league. Some players have endured substantial problems since retiring from competition and many have quality of life issues in a variety of ways. Hilgenberg, who passed away in 2008 was one of them. His cause of death was listed as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis otherwise known as Lou Gehrigs disease. He was 66 years young and gone way before his time. I listened to the sportscaster read from his copy about the story but I was flashing back to that day that I saw up close what these players had to go through.

Equipment wasn’t great back then and even a lot of the playing technique was somewhat unrefined compared to today. Don’t get me wrong, the game today is certainly as tough as ever but there was an element of mano on mano that just seemed a bit different back then. The unspoken expectation to put up with a bit more physical punishment was different as well. Today, we know that much more about all injuries to athletes and head trauma has become a particularly important medical-scientific study. Players are encouraged to keep their training staff informed about everything that is going on with them physically and mentally. Some age-old stigmas about not speaking up about injuries to avoid the appearance that one might not be “tough enough” are mostly gone. But for many guys who played a long time ago, to entertain us on autumn afternoons, they weren’t gone soon enough.

That day in 1976 wasn’t the first time that Hilgenberg had that kind of moment on the field. In sum total all of those moments drastically diminished Hilgy’s quality of life in his final years and it’s fair to say that they ended his life prematurely in all likelihood. His family have been major participants in this issue and in the litigation versus the league as well. His final few years were a physical nightmare you wouldn’t wish on anybody. All for our entertainment. All I can say is that anytime this story comes up, it’s not a good feeling. Every team in the league with aging players who have long retired has guys who are going through this. Perhaps not to the extent of Hilgy’s case, but not good situations nonetheless….

THIS ARTICLE will highlight Hilgenberg’s case for you; The truth behind the death of Vikings legend Wally Hilgenberg. (From 9/16/2012) I met him a few times and he was nothing short of first class….

THE MINNESOTA WILD ARE ON A 4 game win streak and have created a mini-gap between themselves and others in the West vying for playoff spots. They are still 3rd in the Central with 34 points after 27 tilts, the first Wild Card team would be San Jose at 33 points on 28 games. After that the LA Kings are at 30 points also on 27 games. There is still a lot of puck to be played before anything is decided. I had been thinking just last week that it would be nice to see the boys string some wins together to help the cause. And lo and behold? PEACE