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What is CTE?
01:55 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

A former NFL player files lawsuit seeking $5 million for relief and compensation for those preliminarily diagnosed with CTE

Lawsuit says Tracy Scroggins has a preliminary diagnosis of CTE, which is usually confirmed post-mortem

The NFL says it expects the lawsuit to be dismissed

CNN  — 

A former NFL player is suing the league, seeking $5 million after he was preliminarily diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

Tracy Scroggins, a former defensive end for the Detroit Lions from 1992-2001, filed the lawsuit in federal court on Friday. The suit says Scroggins has a preliminary diagnosis of CTE, the result of repeated head trauma.

CTE is only definitively diagnosed after death.

The lawsuit, though, cites UCLA researchers who tested former Minnesota Vikings linebacker Fred McNeill when he was alive. A scan showed that tau, an abnormal protein, was seen in the same spots of his brain where it had been detected post-mortem in people who had CTE.

McNeill died in November and his autopsy confirmed he had CTE.

However, tau testing for the living is in its infancy. A small number of former players have been examined, and critics say this type of test isn’t precise.

NFL wants suit to be dismissed

Scroggins submitted the lawsuit individually in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida but proposes that other former and current players join.

His claim states NFL players during the 1970s through the 1990s were coached to use their helmets as weapons against opponents while blocking or tackling.

“These techniques were condoned by the NFL and/or not significantly condemned by the NFL, despite the defendant’s awareness that this practice was causing an increased risk in repeated head trauma leading to CTE among players.”

Scroggins’ lawsuit also alleges that in the 1970s the league was aware of publications about the seriousness of repeated head trauma.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said on Tuesday the NFL expects the lawsuit will be dismissed, because Scroggins is part of a previous NFL concussion settlement class.

“He is eligible to pursue the benefits provided under the settlement agreement but may not pursue any action in court,” McCarthy said.

In June 2015, a federal judge approved a class-action lawsuit settlement between the NFL and thousands of former players. The agreement provides up to $5 million per retired player for serious medical conditions associated with repeated head trauma. Players had until October 2014 to opt out and pursue their own legal action.

While the class-action lawsuit was a combination of hundreds of actions brought by more than 5,000 ex-NFL players, the settlement applies to all players who retired on or before July 7, 2014, Judge Anita Brody ruled. It also applies to the family members of players who died or are incapacitated.

However, that is on hold because the settlement is being appealed by some former players. According to the NFL concussion settlement website, “No claims for benefits can be submitted now and none have been submitted. No awards have been issued.”

NFL disputes New York Times report

Scroggins lawsuit comes after a critical New York Times story last week on the NFL’s research into concussions and ties to the tobacco industry. The league sent a letter to the Times on Monday demanding a retraction of the story, saying the Times “recklessly disregarded the truth and defamed the NFL.”

Scroggins’ lawsuit references the Times story, including that the Times found that most teams failed to report all their players’ concussions, which the league used for a research study. According to the Times, at least 10% of head injuries diagnosed by team doctors were missing from the study.

After the Times’ report, the NFL sent out two lengthy rebuttals, saying the story “is contradicted by clear facts that refute both the thesis of the story and each of its allegations.”

Earlier this month, the NFL publicly acknowledged for the first time a connection between football and CTE.

Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president of health and safety policy, was part of a roundtable discussion with the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce on March 14 when Rep. Jan Schakowsky asked him: “Mr. Miller, do you think there is a link between football and degenerative brain disorders like CTE?”

“The answer to that question is certainly yes,” Miller said.

For years, the NFL had avoided saying whether football was related to CTE and deferred to the medical community’s findings on the matter.

Notable names with CTE

Almost 100 former NFL players, including some members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, have been found to have had CTE, including Ken Stabler, who died in July from cancer. Researchers at Boston University said Stabler suffered from CTE.

Hall of Fame class of 2015 member Junior Seau was 43 when he killed himself in May 2012 with a gunshot wound to the chest.

Mike Webster, the Pittsburgh Steelers center who was profiled in the movie “Concussion,” was the first former NFL player to be diagnosed with CTE. He died of a heart attack at age 50.

Perhaps the best known person diagnosed with CTE was Hall of Famer and sportscaster Frank Gifford; he died of natural causes in August at age 84.

CNN’s Steve Almasy contributed to this report.