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N.F.L. Agrees to Help Ex-Players Who Have A.L.S.

  
  
  

By ALAN SCHWARZALS

The N.F.L. and the players union announced Monday that they would expand qualifications for the 88 Plan, which since 2007 has assisted former players with medical expenses related to dementia, to include amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Two months ago, Boston University researchers found that some deceased athletes who had been found to have A.L.S. in fact had a different disease that, the doctors said, caused similar degeneration of the central nervous system. That discovery, bolstered by data that suggested that N.F.L. players had been found to have A.L.S. at rates about eight times higher than normal, led the researchers to link the players’ condition with athletic brain trauma.

The N.F.L. and the players union said in a release that players with A.L.S., similar to those with dementia, do not “need to demonstrate that the condition was caused by their participation in the NFL.”

Asked whether the program implies a connection between football and the conditions, the league spokesman Greg Aiello said in an e-mail: “It does not address the issue.”

The 88 Plan has awarded $9.7 million toward the care of 132 former N.F.L. players, according to the release. One year ago, a union lawyer’s analysis of the ages of 88 Plan recipients indicated that the prevalence of dementia among N.F.L. retirees was several times that of the national population.

Chris Nowinski, a member of the Boston University research group, said that the inclusion of players found to have A.L.S. into a plan run by the N.F.L. and its players union sent an important message.

“I think it’s an acknowledgment that there is strong evidence that the reason N.F.L. players get A.L.S. much more often than the general population is the trauma they endured in sports,” Nowinski said. “We still have a lot more to learn.”

Several studies have identified members of the United States military — particularly combat soldiers — at heightened risk for A.L.S. The disease is considered related to military service in the determination of veterans’ benefits.

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