Jimmy Williams, former Saint Rich Mauti sue NFL

A former New Orleans Saints wide receiver and a Baton Rouge high school coach are among four ex-NFL players suing the league and the helmet manufacturer Riddell, claiming the defendants did not provide protection from and hid information about the risks associated with concussions, brain injury and brain trauma in football.

Rich Mauti, who played with the Saints from 1977-83; Jimmy Williams, an assistant football coach at Episcopal in Baton Rouge, who played at Vanderbilt and in the NFL; Nolan Franz, a New Orleans native and member of the Green Bay Packers in 1986; and Jimmy Keyes, a Miami Dolphin in 1968 and 1969; filed their lawsuit in the federal courthouse in New Orleans on Sunday, three days after it was announced that the NFL was proposing to settle a similar class-action complaint involving more than 4,500 former players for $765 million.

On Tuesday, Sol Weiss, co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the case the NFL indicated it would settle, said he anticipates the complaint of Mauti, Williams, Franz and Keyes will be made part of the settlement, in which Riddell was not involved.

Mauti, Williams, Franz and Keyes argue that they suffered repeated head trauma during their NFL careers and that more than $5 million is at stake in their case. Other plaintiffs named in Sunday’s filing include the wives of Williams, Mauti and Keyes.

The lawsuit accuses the NFL of misleading players about the nature of head injuries common in football to protect its multi-billion-dollar business. It says the NFL recognized its responsibility to research, study and identify the physical risks of professional football and created the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury, or MTBI, Committee in 1994 to presumably address concussions.

But despite news articles and television segments highlighting the rash of head injuries in football, as well as overwhelming medical evidence through the years that concussions sustained on the gridiron carried life-altering repercussions for retired players, the NFL misrepresented and concealed facts about the matter through a “hand-picked committee of unqualified physicians” supposedly researching the issue as well, the lawsuit alleges.

NFL teams allowed players who had experienced a concussion to return to the field during the very game in which they were hurt, while athletes in other professional sports would sit out extended periods of time or full seasons, according to the lawsuit.

“The NFL has ... repeatedly refuted the connection between concussions and brain injury to the disgust of Congress, which has blasted the NFL’s handling of the issue on multiple occasions, and expert neurologists who know the score,” the lawsuit says. “The unfortunate reality is that in the (19) years since its formation, the MTBI (Committee) has served as nothing short of a roadblock to any real attempt to protect NFL players from concussions and resultant brain injury.”

The NFL did not respond to a request for comment.

Mauti, a wide receiver who played his college ball at Penn State, spent one season with the Washington Redskins after leaving the Saints. He is a real estate broker in Mandeville, and one of his sons, Michael, is a linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings.

Williams, a defensive back and return specialist, was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 2001. He played for the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Houston Texans prior to leaving the league in 2008. He attended Episcopal and Vanderbilt.

Franz, a wide receiver, played collegiately at Tulane. Before he went to Green Bay, he was on the Breakers of the defunct United States Football League from 1983-85, when the franchise played in Boston, New Orleans and Portland. He lives in Mississippi.

Keyes, listed as a linebacker and kicker, resides in Florida, the lawsuit states.

Attorney James Dugan II is representing the plaintiffs in the suit filed Sunday.