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Diana L. Courson

Cy Smith appears on HBO "Real Sports"

January 22, 2007

On January 22, 2007, Baltimore partner Cy Smith appeared on HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" program to discuss Mike Webster's appeal against the NFL. Ex-Steelers great Mike Webster, who died in 2002, won a final battle against the NFL's pension plan. Webster, who played 245 games at center (the most ever), and every offensive down over a six-year period, was active from 1974 until 1991. The Steelers won four Super Bowls with him at center, and he was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1997.

A unanimous opinion released by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld a 2005 trial court ruling that Mike Webster was "totally and permanently disabled" as a result of multiple brain injuries from playing pro football. The court found that the NFL's pension plan "lacked substantial evidence" to deny Webster an active football disability pension. The court also found that the NFL "ignored the unanimous medical evidence, including that of its own medical expert, [and] disregarded the conclusion of its own appointed investigator." And the court found that "there is nothing in [the] record to uphold" the NFL's denial of benefits.

Baltimore-based Zuckerman partner Cy Smith prosecuted the case in trial court and argued the appeal. He was joined by West Virginia attorney Bob Fitzsimmons, who filed the disability claim in 1999. This ruling will result in an award of at least $1.5 to $2 million to Mike Webster's family, which includes his four children. It will also set a precedent for other disabled retired NFL players, who have argued that the NFL pension plan is unfairly restrictive in the disability benefits it awards. The Webster family's win is the first ruling by an appeals court against an NFL disability pension award.