The NFL asked a federal judge to dismiss more than 100 concussion-related lawsuits brought by former players, arguing that they should be resolved according to the terms of the league's collective bargaining agreement and not by the courts.
The NFL termed the litigation a "labor dispute" in a 40-page motion filed in the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia on Thursday.
"For almost 45 years, professional football players have played under CBAs, painstakingly negotiated through their union, that set forth the parties' understanding and agreement on how, among many other things, player health and safety will be protected," the NFL argued in the motion.
The players accuse the NFL of negligence and argue that league officials concealed known medical links between concussions and brain injuries, leading many of them to suffer from dementia or Alzheimer's disease, or be at an increased risk of reckless or suicidal behavior.
The NFL argues that the CBA covers safety and health rules -- while delegating to each team decisions about players' injuries, and when they are deemed healthy enough to return to the field.
The NFL also argues the lawsuits' lack any specific proof that the risks of head trauma were concealed.
About 140 NFL concussion lawsuits have been consolidated in federal court before U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody. Unless Brody agrees to dismiss them early on, or an umbrella settlement is reached, she likely will decide what evidence can be used at trial, or if a class can be certified for medical monitoring and other pretrial issues. The cases might then return to their home district for trial.
According to an Associated Press analysis, 3,377 players have sued the NFL, charging that not enough was done to inform them of the dangers of concussions in the past, or to take care of them today. That tally includes at least 26 Hall of Famers. There are 5,249 total plaintiffs, including spouses, other relatives and player representatives.
The NFL said at least two federal courts have agreed that the CBA dictates players' rights to compensation for injuries, once in a suit involving the late Dave Duerson, who killed himself last year.
The Minnesota Supreme Court likewise refused to let the widow of Vikings lineman Korey Stringer pursue a wrongful death suit after he died of heatstroke following a 2001 practice, on grounds the claim was trumped by the collective bargaining agreement. Stringer's wife later settled with the NFL over a negligence claim.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.