Gayle said in the suit head trauma he suffered during his 12-year NFL career caused him to experience symptoms consistent with the neurodegenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the Chicago Tribune reported.
"The NFL refused to acknowledge that chronic brain damage in former NFL football players was an epidemic that constituted a national health crisis," the lawsuit stated. The suit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, said the NFL "continuously denied any linkage between repetitive brain trauma sustained by NFL players and long-term brain damage."
The suit criticizes the NFL for not preventing, diagnosing and properly treating concussive brain trauma throughout Gayle's career, which ended in 1995, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
"Following documented concussions, the NFL [never] warned Shaun Gayle that playing through concussions could, and would, cause permanent brain damage," the suit states.
The suit also names Riddell Inc., which makes football helmets, as a defendant, saying the helmets failed to provide adequate protection. The Tribune said Riddell could not be reached for comment.
The suit seeks more than $300,000 in damages.
The Sun-Times said a similar class-action suit was filed in Pennsylvania in March against the NFL by more than 100 former players.
Last year, a woman was sentenced to life in prison for fatally shooting Gayle's pregnant girlfriend.