By Mary Bubala

WASHINGTON (WJZ) — Former pro-football players are a step closer to going to court against the NFL. A federal judge will soon decide whether their lawsuit over concussion-related brain injuries can move forward.

Mary Bubala explains.

Ralph Wenzel played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers. When he died last year after suffering from dementia, a scientist who examined his brain said it had shrunk to the size of a 1-year-old’s.

“It’s very difficult to watch your husband over a probably 15 to 20-year period of time very, very slowly slip away,” said Wenzel’s wife, Eleanor Perfetto.

More than 4,000 players and family members, including some from Baltimore, are suing the NFL.

Former Baltimore Colts player Bruce Laird is part of the lawsuit. He says the recent suicides of former players Junior Seau and Ray Easterling bring the issue to the forefront.

“I tackled a lot of big men, so I got knocked out,” said Laird. “I had no idea every time my bell was rung or I felt dizzy or I saw stars or all that, that I was having a mini-concussion.”

Retired player Dorsey Levens, 42, says the NFL hid or downplayed evidence that concussions can lead to severe brain damage.

“I did know i was going to take some hard hits,” said Levens. “I didn’t know that when I played that this could give you dementia.”

The NFL argues the lawsuit should be dismissed because the players union signed a collective bargaining agreement, making the teams and players’ union responsible for their safety.

“This didn’t happen in a vacuum. The players’ union had certain information. The team had certain information. The training associations had certain information. And all of that has to be factored in before you can evaluate these claims,” said NFL attorney Paul Clement.

A federal judge in Philadelphia is not expected to rule for several months. She could dismiss the lawsuit or let parts of it move forward.

The NFL strongly denies that it misled any players about the dangers of concussions.


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