Last week, I was honored to talk with Paul D. Anderson (@PaulD_Anderson), a Missouri-based attorney with The Klamann Law Firm. The founder of NFLConcussionLitigation.com, Paul was an outstanding interviewee and provided excellent insights on CTE and concussions as a whole. Below, of course, are the topics that we discussed.
Motivating Factors Behind Law School Enrollment, Law School Academic Experience
“I never was interested or was never planning on going to law school. Initially, I went to undergrad thinking that I was going to be a dentist. But, after the first year of classes — biology, chemistry — I realized that I did not want to go into the medical field. So I transferred to another college, Missouri State, and then I started to get into politics … one of the great avenues of politics is becoming a lawyer.”
“I did so lousy on the LSAT that I had to go to Oklahoma City University School of Law for my first year. I did really well there … and I could have transferred really anywhere because I was number one out of 200 [students] or something like that. But, my girlfriend and her family all lived in Kansas City, Missouri, so I was like, ‘Well, I hear that UMKC is a good school, that’s where I’ll probably end up being (practicing law), so I might as well go to UMKC.'”
“I still hadn’t been entirely keen on the sports law area [when I arrived at UMKC] … I’ve always loved sports, and I thought that any goal of a law student who likes sports is to break into the sports law industry. I still hadn’t given that much of a thought because I knew it was a long shot and so difficult.”
Creation of NFLConcussionLitigation.com and Media Recognition of that Website
“I was still top-10, top-15 percent in my class all the way through (law school). And, toward the end of first semester of my 3L year, UMKC has a requirement that you have to write a law review article, or law review note, for upper-level Research & Writing.”
“The areas that I really enjoyed in law school were — Tort Law, Litigation, Class Actions and complex Litigation, Labor Law, and of course, Sports Law. I was looking for some topic to write on and I came across, this is probably August or September of my last year of law school, an article that was written by another lawyer on his blog … about the first NFL Concussion lawsuit that was filed. And I was like, ‘This is fascinating.’ You have retired NFL players asserting these explosive allegations that the NFL basically lied to (the players) about the long-term effects of repetitive brain trauma.”
“As I started to research and dive into the medical side of things, I realized, ‘Wow, a concussion is very serious.’ And the medical community has known about the long-term effects dating back to the 1920s, whenever they were identifying it in boxers as Punch Drunk Syndrome or Pugilistic Dementia.”
“Late in 2011, whenever the (law employment) market still sucked and the stock market had crashed not too long before that … I had to figure out how to make myself marketable, how I was going to stand out from the rest of my peers.”
“I thought, ‘You know what? This legal blogging seems to have some real legs to it.’ So I wrote a couple of articles … on a Yahoo blog, where you could publish your own article. I did that, and it was about the concussion lawsuit — the genesis of what it was, what the allegations were.”
“That winter break, I went to San Diego; my sister lives there and is a computer genius. And I was like, ‘Hey I want you to set up a blog for me.’ She said, ‘Oh, it’s simple. All you have to do is get this WordPress template, and then it’s elementary.’ I bought the domain name, NFL Concussion Litigation … And I started writing about (concussions), following the litigation very closely, and I started tweeting about it.”
“A month later, I’m starting to get some real notice by media outlets: Philadelphia Business Journal, the guy there started following me; Darren Rovell, at that time he was at CNBC, started following me; and I was getting emails from other media outlets. They were like, ‘You seem like the only one who’s really following this closely.'”
“I was keeping track of all of the former players and their (court) filings (including NFL Hall of Fame inductees, like Tony Dorsett) … And I was breaking the news on each one of those. The rest of the media was like, ‘Wow, this kid sounds like he knows what he’s talking about.’ And they would contact me to see if they could quote me. I would respond, ‘Well, you know, I’m just a law student. I’m not a lawyer.'” (Note: Paul obliged and detailed what his opinions were of the case, among other important details).
“(The media coverage) progressed, I started getting a lot of followers on Twitter … ESPN, CBS, CNBC, ProFootballTalk, they would cite to my website … Then, it sort of just took off … Former players started reaching out to me, and other lawyers that were involved in the case started reaching out to me because they were like, ‘This guy knows more about it than we do.'”
List of Articles Mentioning Paul’s Website or Interviewing Paul Directly (P.S. This only represents a microcosm of the media coverage/recognition that Paul received. Suffice to say, he was and still is a hot commodity when it comes to NFL concussions)
- Jeff Blumenthal, “Law student is the go-to guy on NFL injury litigation,” Philadelphia Business Journal, March 2012.
- Jeff Blumenthal, “Local firms tackling NFL cases,” Philadelphia Business Journal, March 2012.
- Daniel Kaplan, “The NFL’s concussion conundrum,” SportsBusiness Journal, May 2012.
- Jeff Blumenthal, “Players’ lawyers consolidate NFL concussion cases,” Philadelphia Business Journal, June 2012.
- Darren Rovell, “League files to dismiss lawsuits,” ESPN.com, Aug. 2012.
- Darren Heitner, “Why Most NFL Teams And The NFLPA Have Escaped Being Named Defendants In NFL Concussion Litigation,” Forbes.com, Aug. 2012.
- Jeff Blumenthal, “NFL concussion suit dismissal?” Philadelphia Business Journal, Sept. 2012.
- “SLT interview – NFL concussion litigation with Paul Anderson – Part One,” Sports Law Talk, Sept. 2012.
- “The SLT Interview with Paul Anderson – Part Two,” Sports Law Talk, Sept. 2012.
- Jeff Blumenthal, “Plaintiffs respond to NFL’s motion in head injuries lawsuit,” Philadelphia Business Journal, Nov. 2012.
- Eric Goldwein, “Why the NCAA Doesn’t Care about Concussions,” Slate.com, Dec. 7, 2012.
- Mike Florio, “George Martin sues NFL for concussions,” ProFootballTalk.com, July 2013.
- Dan Diamond, “‘League Of Denial’ Portrays NFL As Villains. But Who Will Care?” Forbes.com, Oct. 8, 2013.
- Mike Florio, “NFL suffers major setback in concussion cases,” ProFootballTalk.com, May 14, 2014.
- Patrick Hruby, “Discovery Channel,” SportsonEarth.com, June 6, 2014.
- Ty Schalter, “Relief, or Justice? Concussion Hearing Weighs NFL Players’ Conflicting Interests,” BleacherReport.com, Nov. 2014.
- Peter Keating, “An unsettling deal on concussions,” ESPN.com, Nov. 2014.
Landing First Law Firm Job
“During that last semester, I was clerking at a boutique complex litigation, class actions plaintiffs firm in Kansas City, The Klamann Law Firm where I’m at currently. I wasn’t sure if that was going to go anywhere or not because it looked like they were going to just have me as a clerk. By the time that August 2012 rolled around, I got my Bar exams back, I passed, and I started working at The Klamann Law Firm as an … independent contractor, doing lawyerly work.”
“By that winter break, January 2013, I got an offer from the firm. I don’t know if my boss really knew exactly how deep into the concussion litigation I really was; I think he just liked my work ethic on the non-sports litigation side. But then after he hired me, I started telling him more about what I was doing … Obviously, he was very interested. Shortly after January 2013, I started to get calls from players, former players, [and] collegiate athlete’s parents, wondering if I’d be interested in looking at their case.”
“I told my boss about it, and he was like, ‘Well, these cases are very complex and cutting-edge stuff.’ We do big cases here but, at the same time, the way our model works is that we always build a specific law firm … For all our cases — we only do pretty significant cases — what we do, so we can compete against the big corporations and go up against the big law firms, is we team up with another law firm or two other law firms and take on these cases.”
“We assembled a team for all of our ‘football’ cases, and we started get cases and filing cases. The first case we filed was a second-impact syndrome case involving Derek Sheely, who passed away in 2011 through egregiousness conduct by his coaches; they forced him to play through concussions … That case is still pending, and we’re set for trial in June.”
“Nevertheless, we have a great team … We found a unique outlet in Missouri that allowed us to sue the [Kansas City] Chiefs directly; everybody was suing just the NFL, but we were able to sue the Chiefs directly on behalf of our [clients] who were former employees … We were the only case in the country that was remanded and beat the preemption issue, so that kind of brings us to the present day. We’re still working on all of our NFL cases, still putting a lot of time and a lot of money into these cases, and hoping that we can get our [clients] some real compensation at the end of the day.”
Why the National Football League (NFL) Fails to Recognize Magnitude of CTE
“This is the typical industry template … There’s a book written called Doubt Is Their Product … What they (the countless industries that the above-referenced book lay outs, such as the tobacco industry) see, and one of the reasons why is because they know how damaging it can be if people start realizing ‘Oh my gosh, this product can kill you. No one is going to be buying our product any longer.'”
“I think the NFL, the way they initially thought they would defend this case, was through tobacco litigation tactics, and that’s exactly what they did. They created a committee that was tasked with studying concussions. They put it up with certain people, certain (doctors) that had a reputation; they were able ‘study’ it for several years and publish multiple articles in prestigious journals, flat-out denying the existence and the link between repetitive brain trauma and CTE.”
“Now, they’ve really had a gift from God in this NFL Concussion Settlement [because] it’s a real chump-change settlement that doesn’t even get to the core of the issue, and that is CTE. All of our guys opted out of it, so for our position, the settlement is entirely inadequate, unless you’re one of the few people that actually do get compensated. The number of people compared to the rest that don’t get compensated is miniscule.”
“There’s a couple of good things out of the settlement. That is, the people that actually had a diagnosis of CTE within a specific time period that it allows, they’ll get significant compensation … But, the rest of the people, since the deal has been approved, will never receive a dime if they’re diagnosed with CTE, and that was the core allegation in the lawsuit that was all but rendered extinct from the settlement.”
“Everybody tries to say that it’s the media’s talking point; that it’s overblown; and that there’s so much that’s unknown. Well, that’s not what our experts are telling us and that’s not what the facts are telling us.”
“I think it’s just the way that the industry responds to a problem because if they were to come out and say, ‘Hey guys, football causes CTE,’ the parents immediately shriek … So, the NFL sees their lifeblood being mothers and if they can’t convince mothers that football is safe, then the game could potentially be rendered obsolete in the future … But, I don’t foresee that. There’s a lot of doomsday scenarios out there, [so] I don’t see that. Certainly, we are seeing now that participation levels at youth football are being reduced. Maybe, it may come to the point where football becomes privatized, but I still think that the NFL will always be around; college football will always be around; [and] it’s going to thrive and continue to survive.”
“To give the NFL a little bit of credit, and the only reason they’re getting this credit is because they were forced to own up to some of the issues and that is on the acute concussions, players — a lot of the players, for the most part — are being provided with decent care. I don’t want to go so far to say best care because I’m not very objective any longer (as a plaintiff’s attorney that represents a lot of players). But to be fair, there’s certainly no other football field in America where you have sixteen physicians on each side of the sideline, independent neurologists, and eyes all over the sky looking for a concussion.”
“As a perfect example, you look at the Chiefs and their (2014) playoff run against the Indianapolis Colts … Jamaal Charles, in the middle of the game, has a concussion, and he gets pulled out, no longer able to return. I think that was a phenomenal turning point for the Kansas City Chiefs and football, putting player safety first instead of the ‘W.'”
But on the other hand, you have a disastrous case of Case Keenum as an example of a player who suffered a concussion during the 2015-16 NFL season against the Baltimore Ravens but still remained in the game: “One thing that should really be eye-opening is, that’s the NFL. That’s where you have sixteen physicians [and] every single resource possible, and certain concussions are still being missed. That’s unacceptable, especially when it was so blatant.”
Media Coverage of Concussions, specifically this Huffington Post article
“This is on both sides of the coin: some people would think that (accepting certain matters at face value) is exactly what the journalists are doing about CTE — they just automatically accept the sound bites from Boston University, and they publish that CTE is a terrible thing and that everyone is going to get it. On the other hand, you have an article [from] the Huffington Post … I’m not going to cast dispersions on them; I don’t think they did anything wrong, but I think that the Huffington Post blog is a place where basically anyone can write any article that they want if it passes certain requirements.”
“And I think it’s great that there’s positions that people have, and it allows this discussion to occur right now … In any topic, whether it’s sports litigation, concussions, soccer, or business, journalists often will take a source at its word and not dig deeper.”
“The latest example, there was a study that was endorsed by the University of Maryland from a company that created chocolate friggin’ milk, and [the study] said that chocolate milk can help concussion-symptom recovery, which is absolute asinine. And that’s a perfect example at taking something at face value, not considering the ramifications, and just publishing a press release that they got and not digging deeper.”
“(The university president that wrote the article cited above) probably truly believes that, and he is entitled to have that opinion. But, like I [tweeted], I had to have my paralegal almost pick me up off my floor when I read that article. Someone else noted that they thought it was an article from The Onion because it was so comical.”
Safeguards that the NFL Needs to Implement Moving Forward
“I think it comes through multiple avenues. I think one of the first things, and this would obviously have to come through labor relations and negotiations, would be paying these guys in a just way and guaranteeing them contracts. The reason why these guys must play through so much damage and devastation day-in and day-out is, one, they’re hardwired to do it but, two, their livelihood depends upon it … Major League Baseball Players Association (Donald Fehr and Marvin Miller, for example) had to fight for years to get guaranteed contracts, but if you look at football’s compensation compared to baseball, it pales in comparison. I think that would be an ideal situation.”
“The other point, of course, is mandating education for all of the rookies, [as well as] continuing education about the long-term effects of repetitive brain trauma, and then providing these guys with meaningful compensation after they leave the league. If they suffer or are inflicted with some terrible disease, then the players [should be] provided with the resources to care for them, instead of having to go through a long disability process that, at the end of the day, puts up a long battle to try to prevent someone from receiving compensation. I think all of those things would go a long way in making the NFL the ‘good guys.'”
“Why don’t they just create individual facilities in each state where there’s a (NFL) football team? They can get all of their alumni together and say, ‘Here’s a treatment facility for you guys. No cost, we’re going to provide lifetime health insurance and, at the very least, that’s what you’re entitled to after a tough career in the NFL.'”
“The other part of that would be the NFL being truthful with parents. HeadsUp Football is not going to prevent repetitive brain trauma … I really think they’re hoodwinking parents right now by this idea of propaganda that HeadsUp Football is the cure to making football safe, and I don’t think it is at all. I think that reducing brain trauma is the cure, and the only way that you’re going to be able to reduce it, in a simple way, would be allowing these kids to engage in flag football. There’s been many successful football players that didn’t start playing (tackle football) until they were in high school.”
“The counterpoint to that is, ‘Well, if they aren’t tackling at five or six years old all the way up through high school, they’re not going to learn how to tackle, and they’re going to increase their likelihood of sustaining a neck injury, or fracturing their neck, because they don’t know how to tackle.'”
“BS … The dissenters want to sit out and say that CTE lacks studies, lacks a basis in fact, etc. … That exact scare tactic that they use all the time (i.e. limiting the age of tackle football will increase the likelihood of neck injuries), there’s nothing; there’s no data accumulated whatsoever for them to back up that conjuncture on their part.”
“We’ve looked at several brains, and we’ve seen several 20 years old having significant brain disease that have only played football from third grade through their sophomore year or junior year in college.”
“Thank you for the opportunity to speak on an issue that is of utmost concern to the health and safety of our athletes. My hope is that we will be able to continue this dialogue and debate so that in the future, we are no longer debating the science — that repetitive brain trauma causes CTE — but rather moving towards a unified goal of advancing the science and finding cures.”
The Marquette University Law School Sports Law Society Blog cannot thank Paul enough for taking time out of his busy schedule to share some of his fascinating insights and research with us. We wish him the best of luck with his litigation.
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