Over his four-year career with the NFL, Tony Gaiter says he was hit in the head too many times to count.
And the constant pounding of his brain has taken a toll on him. He can’t hold a job because he loses focus. He can’t remember basic things, including what he needs at the grocery store.
“It’s like you can’t have a life after football,” said Gaiter, 42, who was a punt returner and wide receiver for the New England Patriots and the San Diego Chargers from 1997-2001. He also played for the University of Miami. “You get so banged up and there is no support.”
On Monday, Gaiter along with 141 other former NFL players filed a federal lawsuit in Fort Lauderdale against the league, seeking workers’ compensation benefits for CTE (traumatic brain injury) symptoms. The players contend CTE is an occupational hazard of playing football and should be covered under workers’ compensation.
“Right now, these players are not getting any compensation for their injuries,” said Tim Howard, the attorney representing the group. “There is no reason CTE shouldn’t fall under workers’ compensation.”
The lawsuit names nearly 40 former NFL players, including many who have ties to South Florida. Among the group of plaintiffs listed in the suit: Former Detroit Lions player Sedrick Irvin; former Dallas Cowboys player Kevin Harris; former Washington Redskins player Lawrence Jones; former Tampa Bay Buccaneers player Shevin Smith; and former New England Patriots player Santonio Thomas.
The suit could affect the more than 19,000 retired NFL players who don’t qualify for benefits under the existing settlement.
CTE, or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, is caused by repeated brain trauma and can lead to memory loss, depression and dementia, studies show. The disease can only be diagnosed after someone has died. Autopsies have linked CTE and former NFL players.
Howard maintains that scientific developments have demonstrated that CTE can be diagnosed when someone is alive and begins to show symptoms.
In April 2015, a federal court approved a $1 billion settlement between the NFL and the players, who accused the league of not warning players and hiding the damage of brain injury. Earlier this year, a handful of players rejected the settlement and filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, contending that some future cases would not be compensated.
The NFL could not be reached for comment Monday.
Howard said the settlement does not compensate players living with CTE or the families of players who died from CTE after July 2014.
“This is a way for the players to get justice,” Howard said.