NFL

The NFL Players Assn. has been sued over its handling of concussions. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times / March 7, 1997)

Two former NFL players have filed the first federal class-action lawsuit against the NFL Players Assn. over head injuries.

Christian Ballard and Gregory Westbrooks accused the players union of concealing the long-term effects of traumatic brain injuries and not doing enough to address the issue, according to the complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in St. Louis.

The same attorneys also filed a lawsuit Thursday in St. Louis Circuit Court making the same claims against the NFLPA on behalf of former Pro Bowler Neil Smith, Ladell Betts and Anthony Davis.

"NFL players could have avoided or mitigated the dangers of their sport had the NFLPA provided them with truthful and accurate information," one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, Bob Langdon, said in a statement.

While a federal judge granted preliminary approval last week to a settlement between retired players and the NFL over similar issues, the NFL Players Assn., has, until now, escaped the legal furor.

In a statement, the NFLPA said the federal lawsuit "has no merit" and that issues of health and safety are a priority.

The 40-page complaint claims the union didn’t act in the best interest of its members in relation to head injuries.

“Of the millions of dollars received as dues from NFLPA members … the NFLPA spent no significant funds on research and development of safer helmets, safer competition rules, or safer football equipment that could prevent or mitigate brain trauma to players,” the complaint said.

Westbrooks played for four NFL teams between 1975 and 1981 while Ballard spent 2011 and 2012 with the Minnesota Vikings.

Three former presidents of the union -- Trace Armstrong, Kevin Mawae and Troy Vincent -- are also named as defendants.

Both lawsuits seek medical monitoring and financial compensation.

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