The daughters of one late NFL quarterback say injuries sustained during his four years in the league may have turned him from a loving father into an alleged arsonist and felon.
Jeff Komlo’s estate’s allegation is part of one of the 4,500 plaintiffs that collectively claim the league withheld information about the consequences of traumatic brain injuries. Komlo’s daughters’ suit, like the others, seeks redress from the league for pain suffered by a former player, but also suggests the NFL could be liable for the harm he did to others after his career spiraled downwards.
Anecdotal evidence that Kolmo suffered brain trauma during his time in the NFL could be ample. As a rookie quarterback in the NFL in 1979, Komlo was sacked on 9.3% of his dropbacks, on par with the rates suffered by current QBs behind the woeful lines of teams like the Jaguars and Rams.
Komlo retired in 1983 and lived a seemingly normal life for some time. But by 2005, he had abandoned his family, allegedly burned down his home and his girlfriend’s home, and been featured on America’s Most Wanted. In 2009, he died in a car crash while living as a fugitive in Greece. (For more on Komlo’s dissolution, see this excellent 2009 Sports Illustrated story.)
A source with knowledge of the case told BuzzFeed that when Komlo’s daughters heard about the suits against the NFL, they came to believe traumatic brain injury could explain what happened to their father.
“There was all this anger, but then it just kind of dawned on [Komlo’s daughters], when they started reading years later about the litigation [surrounding concussions] and the things being exposed as a result of the litigation,” the source said. “Maybe one of the reasons why their dad acted how he did was because he was brain damaged.”
Michael Kaplen, a lawyer who serves as the chair of the New York State Traumatic Brain Injury Services Coordinating Council, told BuzzFeed that it’s not improbable that brain damage Komlo sustained in his football career sent him on a destructive path. Said Kaplen: “There’s all kind of behavior I’ve seen in my practice that is directly related to a traumatic brain injury.” Kaplen said it’s not unusual for TBI symptoms to take years to surface.
A victory for Komlo’s estate, Kaplen says, could provide a precedent for criminal lawyers pointing to brain trauma as an excuse for their violent behavior. “There’s work done in the prison population that’s shown that something like 80 percent of people incarcerated had some sort of brain trauma,” he said.
Komlo wouldn’t be the first former football player to demonstrate a markedly changed personality after his career. In 2011, CNN.com reported on Shane Dornett, a former Falcon player who went from being an “affable jokester” to a violent man who attacked a restaurant employee unprovoked and brandished a gun at his wife before committing suicide in 2009.
“The problem is that the individual with the brain injury has suffered damage to the frontal lobe, which controls impulse and behavior,” Kaplen said. “They become disinhibited, they cannot control their emotions and behavior. It’s like the brake on an individual’s ability to control themselves no longer works.”
A problem for the Komlos’ case: no autopsy was conducted on Jeff Komlo, whose body was cremated, nor was his brain checked by doctors while he was alive.
The lawsuit further hinges on whether lawyers can prove that the league withheld evidence and knowledge of the dangers football can have on a player’s brain.
The Komlos’ case is part of a larger suit (Buck et al. vs the NFL) against the league. The case is still in its early stages. Buck and several other suits filed across the country have now been consolidated into a single case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The NFL has filed a motion to dismiss, and the plaintiffs’ response is due at the end of this month.
In a statement to BuzzFeed about the suit, the NFL maintained it has “long made player safety a priority and continues to do so.
“Any allegation that the NFL intentionally sought to mislead players has no merit. It stands in contrast to the league’s actions to better protect players and advance the science and medical understanding of the management and treatment of concussions.”