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Is the Knockout Game Real; Parents Saying No to Kids' Football, But NFL Working With Moms; Chris Martin Talks Lawsuit Against Kansas City Chiefs

Aired December 3, 2013 - 23:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: A live look tonight at Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Kansas City Chiefs. What's happening there could change football as we know it. A group of former players claims a hit they took, thousands over a career, made them sick. And they're suing for millions. This is not just about the NFL. It could affect your child's safety.

It's 11:00 in the east. Do you know where your news is?

Good evening, everyone. I'm Don Lemon. This is THE 11TH HOUR, the last word on today's news and what you will be talking about tomorrow. Like, is football just too dangerous? Should we stop letting kids play? Wait until you hear the number of hits an average peewee player takes.

And knock on the knockout game. Is it as bad as you've heard? Is it even real?

Let's get to the bottom of all this. If you believe the media hype about the so-called game, you might be scared to set foot on the streets of a city like New York, like D.C. or L.A. Afraid you could be smacked in the head, knocked to the ground and left unconscious.

Tonight, we're going behind the hype of the knockout game, starting with CNN's Athena Jones.


ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Right now you've heard of the knockout game. It's been hard to miss all the media attention.

UNIDENTIFIED NEWS ANCHOR: The knockout game, a violent national trend.

UNIDENTIFIED NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Teenagers knocking people out for the fun of it.

JONES: Some of it racially charged.

BILL O'REILLY, HOST, THE O'REILLY FACTOR: Another example of young, black Americans committing senseless crimes.

JONES: Attackers punching victims, knocking them down, and sometimes knocking them out cold.

MIKE BROOKS, HLN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: If somebody pulls a knife and stabs something, is that the stabbing game? No. These are serious assaults. Now, have they been going on a long time? Yeah. They're called sucker punches.

JONES: So why all the headlines now? It turns out random violent assaults like these have been reported in at least six states over the last three years. But a few recent cases, captured on video, spread on social media, have made the knockout game inescapable.

PHOEBE CONNOLLY, ASSAULTED IN WASHINGTON: He just like threw a hook with his left hand and just caught me like right in the face. And he said "wapow."

JONES: A knockout attack killed this Vietnamese man in St. Louis. This surveillance video shows the suspects in a deadly New Jersey attack walking away.

In the midst of the intense media focus on these attacks, this New York City mother, who asked us to disguise her face and voice, now believes her 5-year-old son was a victim of the knockout game played by girls.

UNIDENTIFIED MOTHER: He was a little shaken up. He was holding his head. And he said, "Mom, I don't know." Then he said, "Mom, I think those girls hit me in the head."

JONES: The assaults are frightening. Federal law enforcement officials say the incidents are isolated and they consider them a local police issue.

BROOKS: With social media now, we're seeing more of this show up. Has this been going on? This has been going on for years. But now sometimes I think the media is hyping it up more than anything else. And is there some, maybe, a copycat syndrome going on here? There could possibly well be.

JONES: For THE 11TH HOUR, Athena Jones, CNN, Washington.


LEMON: Appreciate that, Athena.

We know this is no game. It's assault. Philadelphia's mayor says he won't stand for it in his city.

Mayor Michael Nutter, welcome to THE 11TH HOUR.

Mayor, I want to ask you a number of questions. Give me quick answers, give me yes or nos or what have you, and I promise we'll have a longer conversation after I ask you these questions.

So, first of all, how are you doing?

MICHAEL NUTTER, (D), MAYOR OF PHILADELPHIA: I'm doing well. And I want to congratulate you, Don, on this brand-new show. Thanks for the invite. And I'll certainly be an 11TH HOUR watcher.

LEMON: Thank you. I appreciate that.

Mayor, do you think the knockout game is real?

NUTTER: I'm not exactly sure what's real or not. What I do know is that, unfortunately, and as the previous person was talking about, spreading across social media are now video of these kinds of random physical attacks or assaults, which is really what they are. If others choose to give it a particular name, so be it. But I think the spread as we're seeming to experience it through the traditional media of these kinds of incidents in cities all across the United States of America is of great concern. And so I'm less about the name. I'm more focused on --


NUTTER: -- these incidents. I certainly want to prevent any of this kind of activity in Philadelphia. And we won't stand for it.

LEMON: I understand that. So then, if we're not sure that it's real and we're not sure yet, because all the evidence is not in, why do you think there's all the hype about it?

NUTTER: Well, again, this is part of the challenge of the power of social media, certainly, a 24/7 international news cycle. Things go up, things get posted. Unfortunately, I think some young people have done some not so smart things that negatively impact someone else's life and certainly their own as well. If you continue to see it, day after day after day, multiple times throughout the course of the 24/7 news cycle, it becomes a thing. It becomes something that people talk about. It starts to become, if you will, a trend. And more and more young people who see this, then you will get, unfortunately, some copycat incidents. I laid out last week -- we acknowledged that there may be some kind of issue going on across the country, not necessarily a Philadelphia phenomenon. We don't have any absolute confirmed cases but, unfortunately, people have been assaulted in Philadelphia.

LEMON: Do you think -- do you think it's racially --


NUTTER: And again, whether it's this thing or not, I want to make sure folks know what's going on.

LEMON: Do you think it's racially motivated?

NUTTER: I don't know what's in the mind of a person that comes out through the course of an investigation. But I have to tell you, if you are attacked, you really don't care at that moment, quite frankly, whether it was because of race or gender or sexual preference or orientation or anything else. You're hurt. You're injured. Somebody could possibly be killed. We need to cut out. When you look at what Solomon Jones, here in Philadelphia, wrote just last week that these young people, unfortunately, maybe mostly males, they're young, their testosterone flowing all over the place, they don't always make the best judgments. So what we're saying, at least here in the city, is parents pay attention to what's going on with your kids. Young people, don't make a dumb mistake or incorrect choice that could negatively hurt someone and affect your life for the rest of your life. Law enforcement is paying attention. So again, this is not something to play with. I think you have to be proactive on it and walk that fine balance between giving something too much attention versus ignoring it. I think what we're trying to do at least is play it right down the middle, which is something may be going on. We want to alert the public to it. Pay attention to what's going on around you. And young people, cut it out before you get yourself in trouble.

LEMON: Mayor Nutter, the mayor of Philadelphia, saying whether it's real or not, he's not going to stand for it. It's assault, regardless, and you will be prosecuted.

NUTTER: Absolutely.

LEMON: Mayor, thank you for joining us on THE 11TH HOUR. We appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule.

NUTTER: Sure. Thank you, Don. And congratulations.

LEMON: Thank you very much.

So we agree. Hitting people in the head is bad. But what about letting people hit your kids in the head over and over again? That's what happens to kids as young as 7 who play football. In a minute, the growing number of parents who say, no way, will my kid play. And how one NFL team is working with moms to tackle the problem.





LEMON: So Americans don't agree on a lot, but we agree we do love football. That is a fact. Here's another fact for you. Football is a brutal dangerous game. Too dangerous for kids? Some moms think so.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick, is that why the Kansas City Chiefs are trying to win moms over tonight?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely. They're trying to win over moms, dads, the children themselves. These are clinics that are being held all across the country. They're sponsored by USA Football and the NFL. The program is called Head Start (sic) and the goal is to teach kids how to play it smarter.


(SHOUTING) FEYERICK (voice-over): These moms have spent countless hours on the sidelines watching their children play football. Today, in Kansas City at the Arrowhead Stadium, it was their turn.


FEYERICK: Learning from the pros a safer way to tackle, not with the head but with the shoulders.


FEYERICK: Eddie Kennison spent eight years with the Kansas City Chiefs as a wide receiver. He's working with the nonprofit group USA Football and the NFL as part of a Heads Up Program.

EDDIE KENNISON, FORMER KANSAS CITY CHIEFS WIDE RECEIVER: I'm going to hit you here with my head on the side, not head-to-head. I lean in with my shoulder with an elbow to be able to tackle you that way.

FEYERICK (on camera): So the impact is here as opposed to head and neck?

KENNISON: Correct.

FEYERICK: You played for a lot of teams. That is what you were taught growing up?





FEYERICK: What were you taught?

KENNISON: I was taught separate the ball from the guy with the ball.

CHARLIE RAINONE, FATHER OF CHARLES RAINONE: We go to football games. We like that. Just not allowed to play.

FEYERICK (voice-over): Every season, 13-year-old Charles RAINONE asks his parents if he can join the school football team. Every year, the answer is no.

(on camera): Given that you yourself played football, is it difficult to say no to your son that he can't play?

CHARLIE RAINONE: Absolutely. Absolutely. It's a great game, great team sport.

(SHOUTING) FEYERICK (voice-over): Millions of children across the country play tackle football.


FEYERICK: But all the talk of concussions and long-term brain injuries, especially among pro football players suing the NFL, has many parents questioning whether it's truly safe for their kids to play.


FEYERICK: Charles, 5'8", 185 pound and a star baseball player, says his middle school coaches are eager to recruit him.

(on camera): So you would be a prized catch on any football team. Do they press you to play?

CHARLENE RAINONE, MOTHER OF CHARLES RAINONE: Well, that's what I was going to bring up.

CHARLES RAINONE, WANTS TO PLAY FOOTBALL: Yeah. So I'll come home with -- I would tell them I'm not allowed to play.

FEYERICK (voice-over): Charles is not alone. In the last several years there's been roughly a 10 percent drop in the number of kids playing football. Now football is trying to tackle the problem head on.

Neurologist, Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, treats concussions in athletes from peewees to pros, and says changing tackling methods is a positive start.

DR. JEFFREY KUTCHER, NEUROLOGIST: Are we hitting just to hit? Or are we teaching good technique? What is the minimum amount of hitting we need to do in practice, in other words, to create football players who can protect themselves on the field?


FEYERICK: Easier said than done. One study found players as young as 7 take as many as 80 hits to the head, a number that triples in boys 9 through 12 who absorb almost 240 hits each season. Researchers at Boston University estimate that every season your average high school football player takes 1,000 blows to the head.

(on camera): Is there anything that the NFL could do to convince you that your son would be OK if he plays?

CHARLENE RAINONE: No. Honestly, no. That's part of the game. That's what the game is. There's hits. There's tackles. There's 10 guys on top of you. How could you protect my son with 10 guys on top of him?

FEYERICK (voice-over): Charles' dad, Charlie, who still hurts from injuries he got playing high school and college football, believes you can only change the game so much.

(on camera): Do you think the NFL is now discouraging these sorts of direct hits?


FEYERICK: Why not?

CHARLIE RAINONE: Because it's entertainment. And people want to see that big collision. They want to see that hit. I mean, that's why you watch the games. You jump out of your seat when you see a collision, like, oh, my god. That's what people want.


FEYERICK: Now the moms who were here tonight at Arrowhead Stadium, one of the reasons, it's a very football-friendly crowd. But they said, look, they need to not only be on the sidelines but they need to know how to instruct their kids, especially to play a better, more smart game.

But we did speak to the senior vice president of health and safety for the NFL. He said, look, there's not a single piece of equipment that ultimately is going to prevent head injuries but, again, changes he believes will help.

And this clinic took place, Don, on the very same day that five more players with the Kansas City Chiefs actually filed a lawsuit saying the current lawsuit is simply not enough, that it's just the tip of the iceberg, that it deals with the severe cases, not the other cases, which ultimately will come down the road -- Don?

LEMON: Deborah Feyerick, thank you very much for that great segue into our next segment as well.

We're going to turn to Chris Martin, Ken McClain. Chris is one of the former players suing the Kansas City Chiefs. And Ken is his attorney.

Chris, you and your wife are plaintiffs in this lawsuit against the Kansas City Chiefs. Why are you suing after the $765 million settlement with the NFL?

CHRIS MARTIN, FORMER KANSAS CITY CHIEFS PLAYER: Well, I really didn't feel that the NFL lawsuit addressed my needs and my issues of my family. So that's why I sought out different counsel.

LEMON: What is your complaint against the team?

MARTIN: Well, the number-one complaint is negligence, is that if you give me an opportunity to know what's happening as far as concussions and tell me that having a concussion and going back on the field is a good thing, then that information wasn't given to me. I couldn't make a good educated decision on going back on the field. So that's my main primary complaint?

LEMON: So that information, you feel, you say was not given to you.

I want to ask your attorney, Ken McClain, you know, the team and many are saying listen some of these players were playing long before they knew the repercussions of getting hit in the head and concussions and what have you. Why file this lawsuit when the league has given $765 million to players? Why weren't the five players part of that settlement?

KEN MCCLAIN, ATTORNEY FOR CHRIS MARTIN: The $765 million, Don, is rather illusory in nature. It's paid out over 20 years. If you just do the present value calculation, that's under $500 million. You spread that out, it's about $20 million a year. These players are not included, based upon the public releases about what the settlement will cover, other than medical monitoring to -- in order to recover any significant moneys through the lawsuit, you have to have dementia or other major cognitive difficulties. So most of the players that are going to be included within the lawsuit are going to receive no compensation. That's number one.

Number two, going back to the 1930s, warnings in the medical literature existed that successive concussions would cause permanent injuries. Football recognized this, and yet didn't respond to it until just the last few years. Specifically, the Kansas City Chiefs were involved in the concussion studies that the National Football League sponsored going back into the 1980s that pooh-poohed the dangers of concussions and, in fact, implemented that as a policy to the team. And when Chris and the other players we represent were, in fact, playing, encouraged them to go back into games after that'd had concussions.

LEMON: Yeah.

MCCLAIN: That clearly contributed to the problems that they're facing.

LEMON: Listen, Ken, I think our viewers should know that the only reason that you are able to do this in Kansas City is because of the way the law is. There's a loophole in the law in Missouri that you're able to file this suit. Because in most other states, they can't do it.

Chris, I have to ask you really quickly before we do, do you think kids should play football?

MARTIN: I think given the information, I think it should be left up to their parents. As far as kids playing, there is information that basically -- or research that basically says they shouldn't play until 14. So I just think that each parent should judge it based on their child.

LEMON: Yeah. Would you let your kids play?


LEMON: You would?

Thank you, Ken.

Thank you, Chris.

We reached out to the Kansas City Chiefs. They have no comment on the lawsuit at this time.

In a minute, I'm going to talk to a doctor with the NFL, and to a woman whose player-husband killed himself and was later found to have brain disease.


LEMON: I'm Don Lemon, this is THE 11TH HOUR, and we're talking about head injuries in football. Is this a case of "you knew what you were getting into"? How many players drafted out of college would turn down those million-dollar NFL contracts if they knew the all the possible ramifications of a career in football? I would bet zero.

Dr. Joseph Maroon, you're the team neurosurgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Because of the lure, most players don't ask questions. Should they?

DR. JOSEPH MAROON, TEAM NEUROSURGEON FOR PITTSBURGH STEALERS: Of course, they should ask questions and, quite frankly, they do ask questions. They're questions that have been asked over the last several years but perhaps not as many as should have been asked in the past.

LEMON: The lawsuit filed today against the Kansas City Chiefs covers years 1987 to 1993. Can you explain the cultural shift that you have seen in the NFL concerning concussions over your long career?

MAROON: Sure. There has been a major cultural shift. In 1970s, 80s, even early '90s, the main concern neurologically was when an athlete had a concussion he didn't also have a concomitant intracranial hemorrhage, kind of the Natasha Richardson Syndrome where she fell, hit her head and died from an epidermal (ph) hematoma. So that the focus was on very severe injuries that could occur, and had to be taken very seriously, and obviated and prevented. The time of concussion awareness for most players and most teams really started in the '90s, when, at that time, Coach Chuck Noel, of the Pittsburgh Steelers, challenged us when we said we couldn't let a player go back because of concussion. He said, why? And I said, because guidelines say that you should stay out of football for at least a few days or a week or so depending on the severity. He said, I want objective data. That's when Mark Lovell, a neuropsychologist, and I, came up with the concept of a neurocognitive test, a pen-and-pencil and subsequently computer-based test on impact that allows an individual to have a baseline and then subsequently evaluated. This wasn't until the '90s that this occurred. We've now base-lined over 4.5 million kids at all levels of sports, including the NFL and NHL and Major League Baseball.


MAROON: So there's a major cultural shift. LEMON: I'm glad you bring up kids. Because you saw the clinic, they were having at Arrowhead Stadium there in Kansas City. Do you think it's safe for kids to play football?

MAROON: I think it's never been safer for kids to play football. Let me just read you a quote from the White House conference. It said, "Unless the brutality and danger to the lives of the players is reduced, the sport of football is potentially doomed." I think from watching what you said, many of the people who were commented on this would agree with that.

LEMON: Yeah.

MAROON: This statement was made at the White House in 1905. And it led to major changes in protection for athletes. I think we're in another tipping point, if you would, in which --


LEMON: Doctor --


LEMON: -- we've got to run. Thank you very much. I appreciate what you're saying. I know we're at a tipping point where we need to make a difference.

I want to talk to someone now who knows all about that.

Alicia Duerson, you lived a nightmare with your late ex-husband, Dave Duerson. He was a former Chicago Bear who killed himself. You later found out that he had brain disease. Do you think your husband, Dave, knew of the long-term risks when he was playing?

ALICIA DUERSON, WIFE OF FOOTBALL PLAYER DAVE DUERSON: No, not at all. No one talked to us about long-term risk or the safety of when you get hit, the concussions, what could happen. No, he did not know.

LEMON: He didn't know?


LEMON: So he -- your husband shot himself in the heart --

DUERSON: Correct.

LEMON: -- rather than in the head because he knew something was wrong. Internally, he knew something was wrong. And the people who -- it helped you and it also helped people who were looking at his brain to realize that there was something wrong and that it was possibly from all the hits he took playing football.

DUERSON: Correct. He took a lot of hits playing football. David was a strong safety with the National Football League and he was all-pro five times. He took a lot of hits and gave a lot of hits. LEMON: People say "you should know the risks. These guys know the risks when they're playing here." But I'm not sure they did. Can you explain to people who may have that sentiment, the last 10 years, what that's been like for you and what it's been like the last part of your husband's life?

DUERSON: The last part of Dave's life was -- the last 10 years was just really hard for him because we had no idea what he was going through. He knew something was wrong, but there were no guidelines. There was no one talking about it, no one saying look for this symptom, look for that. So if you can imagine just being normal, then all of a sudden your brain shifts on you and you can't remember simple things, easy things. You don't know what's going on with you. And you're young.

LEMON: Yeah.

DUERSON: So it's not like you could say you're having Alzheimer's or something. You just don't know.

LEMON: Yeah.

We thank you for joining us, Alicia Duerson. And we'll be watching this story very closely here on CNN. Thank you again.

DUERSON: Thank you.

LEMON: Tomorrow on THE 11TH HOUR, wage war. Wage war. Can anyone live on what you make at Walmart or McDonald's? Could you? But are you willing to pay the price of giving everybody a living wage?

That's it for us tonight. Brooke Baldwin and "In Case You Missed It" starts right now.