Ditka: NFL needs to do more for players suffering from brain injuries

FOX 32 NEWS - Getting your bell rung is an occupational hazard of playing professional football.

But former Bears head coach Mike Ditka says the NFL needs to do a better job of taking responsibility for players who suffer long-term brain injuries.

A helmet-to-helmet hit on star quarterback Cam Newton last week is once again raising questions about the NFL’s ability and willingness to protect its players from concussions.

"A player does not want to come out of the game. He wants to be out there with his teammate. That's part of it. I don't say it's right but that's just part of it,” Ditka said.

Ditka says when it comes to his own grandchildren playing football, he’d prefer they play golf.

"I'm just saying for long term effects, I'd put a golf club in their hand,” Ditka said.

Ditka took part in a football concussions forum Monday at the City Club of Chicago.

One of his star Bears players, Dave Duerson, killed himself in 2011. An autopsy determined he was suffering from CTE, a condition caused by repeated brain trauma.

Chicago attorney Tom Demetrios filed suit against the NFL on behalf of Duerson's family.

"He knew something was wrong. He knew he no longer had control of his life. And the fact of the matter is that what's happened to an awful lot of players,” Demetrios said.

In 2014, the NFL settled a class action suit that could provide a billion dollars to former players with neurological diseases linked to concussions.

But experts say that does little to prevent the same thing happening to today's players.

Chris Nowinski, who heads the concussion legacy foundation, says the earlier kids start playing football, the more trouble they'll have when they get older.

"There's no question if you start playing football later, maybe you wait till high school, you're gonna have a better future than somebody who played longer. It's the same thing we see with smoking,” Nowinski said.

Ditka also helped form a group called "Gridiron Greats" that helps players suffering from the effects of their playing careers. But he says the NFL needs to do more.

"We helped some people. We were not the answer. But it was not our responsibility either to be the answer. The responsibility falls on the National Football League. And it always will,” Ditka said.

Under the terms of the proposed NFL concussion settlement, former players will have 180 days to make a claim. But critics say that's absurd because symptoms often take years to appear.