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Film on dangers of brain injuries in NFL players features Harrison

Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Steelers linebacker James Harrison watches the Denver game from the sideline at Sports Authority Field at Mile High two weeks ago.

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By Alan Robinson
Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012, 9:41 p.m.
 

James Harrison, whose very name is synonymous with violent, concussion-causing hits, acknowledges he has covered up suspected concussions to keep playing but can't estimate how many he has had.

“I haven't been out like on my feet or out to where I wasn't moving, maybe once,” Harrison said Tuesday. “But what they (clinically) consider a concussion … I'm not going to count.”

Harrison's comments, made at the screening of a documentary about brain injuries in NFL players and the dangers of playing football are much like those made earlier this summer by teammate Troy Polamalu. The All-Pro safety said on a national radio show he has played with concussion-like symptoms numerous times.

Harrison, currently sidelined with a knee injury, is featured in the film “The United States of Football” partly because his much-replayed hits resulted in concussions to multiple players, including Colt McCoy, Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi of the Browns.

“He's often portrayed as a sullen character,” said filmmaker Sean Pamphilon, whose full-length film is aimed at a theatrical release. “But I think he's been made a huge scapegoat in this issue. It really upsets me he's been singled out because he plays football the way he's been taught. He plays football the way this league is marketed to play football.”

Harrison, 34, said he has become increasingly concerned about his health the longer he plays and now wears Kevlar padding in his helmet designed to reduce the amount of impact a player feels by more than 50 percent.

As the film was being made, more than 3,000 players from nearly every era of the sport filed lawsuits against the NFL, arguing the league failed to protect and educate them about injuries that can lead to brain damage, dementia, Alzheimer's disease and premature death.

Pittsburgh lawyer Jason Luckasevic filed the first two of the estimated 140 lawsuits brought by the former players, including former Pitt stars Tony Dorsett and Hugh Green and former Steelers Louis Lipps and Delton Hall.

“Pittsburgh is ground zero for this,” Pamphilon said.

Former Steelers center Dermontti Dawson recently joined a lawsuit only weeks before being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“The United States of Football” was screened at the South Side Works for an audience that included numerous former players and their families. The film begins with Pamphilon's 12-year-old son deciding whether to play tackle football but soon focuses on the discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the brains of former NFL players.

Among them was Justin Strzelczyk, the former Steelers lineman who died in a 2004 car accident and was later found to have a brain condition that usually existed only in former boxers with dementia or those in their 80s. The late Steelers center Mike Webster's death also is included.

Former NFL lineman Kyle Turley is convinced the lawsuits will be won.

“They're going to keep doing it until you make them stop. It's the tobacco case all over again,” Turley said. “If the suits weren't won against the tobacco companies, you'd still have smoking sections in high schools and doctors smoking in delivery rooms. … What the NFL did was egregious.”

The NFL has contended in federal court the matter is a labor issue that should be resolved through its collecting bargaining agreement.

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