TAMPA — For more than three years, former Bucs guard Arron Sears has exhibited signs of psychological problems, including lack of communication and uncontrollable anger.
The career of the 2007 second-round pick ended after just two seasons when the issues did not subside. Blame had not been assigned — until now.
A lawsuit filed this week in Hillsborough Circuit Court points to a single culprit: football.
Sears' parents, Calvin and Henrietta Woods, filed the lawsuit on their son's behalf and are joined as plaintiffs by former Bucs Jimmie Giles and Donald Smith. They allege the Bucs, NFL, helmet manufacturer Riddell and other teams that employed them were negligent and withheld information related to the effects of concussions and head injuries.
The suit seeks an unspecified monetary award and punitive damages.
It also details some of Sears' current issues.
It says Sears, who left the club in 2009, is experiencing "various neurological conditions … related to head trauma.
"Sears has almost total loss of function, is unable to care for himself and cannot take (care) of his day-to-day activities. Further, Arron Sears has extreme displays of temper and anger with the appurtenant risk of causing harm to himself and others."
The suit also says Sears, "sustained repetitive traumatic impacts to his head and concussions on multiple occasions while playing professional football."
The suit is different in one respect from the 93 current concussion-related lawsuits. According to attorney Paul Anderson, who runs the website NFLconcussionlitigation.com, all previous suits named the NFL as a primary defendant. This one also targets specific teams.
The Bucs declined to comment, deferring to the league office.
"The NFL and its clubs have long made player safety a priority and continues to do so," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy wrote in an email. "Any allegation that the NFL or its clubs intentionally sought to mislead players has no merit. It stands in contrast to the league's actions to better protect players and advance the science and medical understanding of the management and treatment of concussions."
Sears, 27, is known to have sustained at least one concussion during his final season, 2008.
Teammates and coaches first noticed something different about Sears during offseason workouts in the spring of 2009. They described him as distant. Eventually, the problem worsened, and Sears stopped communicating.
Sears returned home to Alabama while the team helped his family try to pinpoint the source, but no diagnosis was disclosed. The team released him in 2010.
Judging by the description of Sears in the suit, there has been little, if any, improvement in his condition. He has repeatedly been taken into protective custody by police under the Baker Act (a Florida law that allows for involuntary examination at the behest of police, judges and mental health professionals) over the past two years and, according to the suit, is under the guardianship of his parents.
Giles, a tight end for the Bucs from 1978-86 who was inducted into their Ring of Honor last year, was part of a previous lawsuit in which he sought increased payments under the NFL's retirement plan. In this suit, he alleges "various neurological conditions and symptoms related to multiple head traumas."
Giles, 57, also played for the Oilers, Lions and Eagles.
Smith, 48, was a running back and receiver for the Bucs from 1987-89 and for the Bills in 1990.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs or on Twitter at @BucsBeat.