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2009 spotlight: Concussion attorney advocates for safety and future of football
Paul Anderson has been referred to by Forbes as one of the nation’s leading experts on concussion law. Photo by Dave Kaup

2009 spotlight: Concussion attorney advocates for safety and future of football

Written by Zachary Riel
Photo by Dave Kaup

Sports have always played a central role in Paul D. Anderson’s life.
Before he could even walk, Anderson remembers his dad rolling a baseball across the grass as they played “catch” in their backyard.

In elementary and middle school, Anderson played football as an inside linebacker. As a child, he idolized NFL star Junior Seau.

“I always looked up to him because to me, he was the toughest guy ever,” said Anderson. “His name was literally ‘say-ow’ — for an NFL linebacker, how much cooler can you get?”

As he progressed in his education and began to pursue a career as an attorney, Anderson’s childhood hero would soon become his inspiration for trailblazing a brand new field of law.

From pastime to passion

While at Missouri State, Anderson, a political science major, spent much of his free time immersed in sports. When he wasn’t studying for the LSAT, he played racquetball and debated favorite baseball teams with his Alpha Kappa Lambda fraternity brothers.

In a more reflective setting, he discussed politics and jogging with his pre-law advisor, Dr. Kevin Pybas, an associate professor of political science at Missouri State.

He also learned a few life lessons along the way.

“Dr. Pybas showed me how important a work-life balance is,” said Anderson. “You can work a lot, but you also need to carve out time in your day to exercise and enjoy life.”

Once in law school, Anderson’s interest in sports began to shift from personal to professional.

In 2011, as he researched potential topics for his law review article, Anderson came across one of the first lawsuits ever filed related to the NFL and the long-term risks of brain injury from football.

Eager to learn more, Anderson immersed himself into the science of brain injury. Retired NFL players, he found, were dying at very young ages, many suffering from cognitive issues or committing suicide.

The science showed that repetitive brain trauma can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a neurodegenerative disease that causes behavioral issues and dementia.

In 2012, Anderson’s law review article and his research on the topic of concussions grew into the website nflconcussionlitigation.com.

Later that same year, Seau committed suicide. While Seau had never been formally diagnosed with a concussion, CTE was detected in his brain after his death.

Protecting football’s future

In 2013, Anderson, now described by Forbes as “one of the nation’s leading experts on concussion law,” filed his first court case representing the family of Frostburg State University football player Derek Sheely, who suffered a fatal brain injury in 2011.

“We often get accused of being ‘anti-football,’ but that’s far from the truth,” said Anderson. “Our role as lawyers is to be advocates for the health and safety of the players so that football can continue to survive and thrive.”

On Aug. 8, 2016, as part of a historic settlement, the NCAA and other defendants agreed to pay $1.2 million to the Derek Sheely Foundation, which was established to increase awareness and research about concussions.

A positive cultural change, Anderson said, is finally taking place.

“You can see it in new legislation in all 50 states as well as the newly widespread media coverage of concussions,” said Anderson. “People are now realizing the devastating effects of concussions and the importance of making health and safety a priority.”

Daniel Anthony, a 2011 graduate of Missouri State, became a close friend of Anderson’s during their time in college. Anthony currently works as an athletic trainer at the University of Rhode Island.

According to Anthony, Anderson’s work has motivated coaches to confer more with their medical staff.

“He’s helping to change the way athletic trainers are thought of and used,” said Anthony. “We aren’t just around to tape ankles — we have training in multiple skill sets, and it’s people like Paul who are helping others realize our value.”

In the midst of all of the activity in his work life, Anderson still remembers Pybas’ lessons about work/life balance: “My wife is ready to start a family — that’s probably going to be the next chapter of our life.”

— Written by Zachary Riel