Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Ashley Lucas (2014 J.D. Candidate, Texas Tech University School of Law) recently published an article entitled, The Game of Russian Roulette: A Practitioner’s Guide to Protecting Professional Athletes from “The Final Head Blow” During the Estate Planning Process, 6 Est. Plan. & Cmty. Prop. L.J. 131(Fall 2013). Provided below is the introduction to her article:
It is certainly no secret that anytime an athlete sustains a blow to the head, it is dangerous. Unfortunately, the win-at-all-cost mentality in today’s sports world, especially at the professional level, entices many players to ignore their injuries, either by playing through the pain or by playing hurt. There is no denying that it may be of no consequence for players to be tough and shake off certain types of injuries. However, as national headlines blare about head injuries in professional sports, and research continually indicates that recurring head injuries trigger the early onset of neurodegenerative disease, especially among collision-and contact-sport athletes, it is inescapably clear that the risks and long-term consequences associated with sports-related brain injuries demand our undivided attention.
Over the past few decades, sports have become increasingly popular in the United States; this rise in popularity has, in effect, exposed a sizeable portion of our population to the risk of brain injury. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are approximately 300,000 sports-related traumatic brain injuries each year. Other studies show that approximately 1.6 to 3.8 million athletes in the United States suffer a traumatic brain injury related to participation in sports activities. In today’s sports, not only are athletes, at all levels, bigger and faster, but also, they are much stronger than they were in the past. Because athletes can create more power and speed these days, they contact their opponents with a force, unlike ever before, and with harder hits comes more head trauma. While full-blown concussions are certainly a cause for concern, they are just part of the issue. Recent findings in concussion research indicate “that repetitive small hits to the head can cause as much damage as big blows . . . They all count.”
The prospect of long-term neurological decline among professional athletes is undoubtedly a cause for concern. Such concern is worthy of estate planning professionals’ attention. Estate planners must be cognizant of the fact that a growing number of professional athletes suffer from neurodegenerative diseases, and although the patterns of progression of the different diseases may vary among athletes, most neurodegenerative diseases progressively attack the central nervous system and cause long-term, life-altering consequences.
The purpose of this article is to bring awareness to the long-term health implications associated with head injuries sustained by athletes who participate in different collision and contact sports. Not only does this article aim to educate estate planning attorneys of the importance of planning for the unfortunate possibility of a client’s long-term neurological decline, but it also seeks to offer guidance to those working with professional athlete clients because until now, there has been an absence of direction in this area. Part III of this article provides background information about various collision and contact sports and discusses various professional athletes who have suffered from the effects of traumatic brain injuries. Next, Part IV provides information about various neurological studies of former professional athletes, each of which augments the evidence linking head injuries to the prospect of long-term neurological decline. Part V extends the evidence to illustrate the impact that sports-related head injuries have on the estate planning community. Finally, Part VI highlights the fact that current estate planning tools do not adequately address the potential issue that professional athletes face, and it provides questions that practitioners can incorporate into their estate planning strategies to better protect this class of individuals.