Former 49er, ABC7 Sports Anchor Mike Shumann explores possible impact of NFL's concussion settlement

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KGO) -- My former teammate, Eason Ramson has some fond memories of our years with the 49ers, including the Super Bowl. But, these days, conjuring up those memories can be a challenge. Same with the names of some of the students he's counseled over the years at the Bayview YMCA.

"Those are the ones I have to explain (it) to," says the former 49ers tight end. "I've been hit in the head, and I've had four knockout concussions. And I'm suffering from it now."

Like thousands of NFL veterans, Eason and I have applied to be included in the NFL concussion settlement.

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The first claims are expected to be considered in the next few months. The settlement resolved a wave of lawsuits by former players who claimed the NFL hid the true risks of concussions.

Many of us had experiences of being sent back into a game after what was commonly called "getting your bell rung." And while the NFL'S policies toward concussions have changed dramatically, injured players still face years of uncertainty.

If a player does not currently display symptoms, they can also re-apply at a later date.

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Dr. Jam Ghajar runs the concussion and brain performance center at Stanford University. He developed an eye tracking technology, which is now used on the sidelines to test players for evidence of concussion. But even with the advances, he says researchers are still working on a formal medical definition for the injury.

"It's still undefined, and a physician makes a diagnosis in their best judgment," says Ghajar. "We're working on that."

This is an undated image of an X-ray showing a dark area of a brain.

There is also no accepted way to test a living player for the progressive brain damage associated with concussion, known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE.

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Dr. Geoff Manley, is also a professor of neurosurgery at UCSF, says advances are being made in brain imaging that may someday be able to offer an early diagnosis of CTE without waiting for an autopsy.

"We're still trying to catch up with our diagnostic tools. We are still trying to better formulate different kinds of treatments for this," says Manley.

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Qualifying for the NFL settlement hinges in large part on a battery of cognitive tests. They're designed to document a former player's symptoms rather than concussion and related brain damage like CTE. The agreement covers diagnosis of dementia, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's and ALS, which affects former 49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark.

"What was arrived at was a structured neurological exam and euro-psych assessment of these players to try to come up with some objective evidence to determine who needs long-term support and who doesn't," Manley says.

Once a settlement is approved for a particular player, it can range from tens of thousands of dollars into the millions, depending on the extent of the injury.

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But, for some players, the toll goes beyond a price tag.

"(If) you put it on the table for me, and I'm confronted with it, no I wouldn't go back and play," says Ramson.

Next month the NFL settlement group will begin offering baseline assessment exams to players who elect to participate. The results could be used to document deterioration in a former player's condition as they age.
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