The National Football League has reached a $765 million settlement with more than 4,800 former players who were suing the league over concussions and brain injuries suffered during their careers, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.
The settlement, which was reached in a mediation process ordered by the federal judge overseeing the case, brings an abrupt end to litigation that had ensnared the NFL for the last year, and while the $765 million figure is costly, it is far less than the league could have been forced to pay out had the case proceeded through court. The players suing the NFL alleged that the league committed negligence in how it dealt with concussions and fraud in obscuring the potential links between football, concussions, and long-term brain trauma. The NFL produced research skeptical of the dangers of concussions and their potential links to both football and long-term brain trauma.
The $765 million will “provide medical benefits and injury compensation for retired NFL football players, fund medical and safety research, and cover litigation expenses,” according to a release from NFL Communications. If the settlement is approved, it will provide $75 million to perform baseline medical exams on retired players. $675 million will go toward injury compensation for players who demonstrate evidence of “severe cognitive impairment,” including dementia, Alzheimer’s, and ALS. The NFL will also put $10 million toward medical and injury-prevention research. Those benefits will apply to all former players, not just those who were party to the litigation. The NFL will pay out half of the benefits in the first three years, with the rest to be paid out over the next 17 years.
The agreement does not require the NFL to admit that it hid or obscured the links between football, concussions, or long-term brain injuries, according to the settlement terms.
“An agreement doesn’t imply anything about either side’s position,” former U.S. District Judge Layn Phillips, the court-appointed mediator, said in a question-and-answer about the settlement. “It doesn’t mean that the NFL hid information or did what the plaintiffs claimed in their complaint. It does not mean that the plaintiffs’ injuries were caused by football or that the plaintiffs would have been able to prove that their injuries were caused by football. On the other hand, it doesn’t mean that the plaintiffs wouldn’t have been able to prove their case. The settlement means that the parties reached an agreement to put litigation behind them, get help to retired players who need it, and work proactively to support research and make the game safer.”
“This is an extraordinary agreement that will provide immediate care and support to retired players and their families,” lead plaintiffs’ attorney Christopher Seeger said in the statement. “This agreement will get help quickly to the men who suffered neurological injuries. It will do so faster and at far less cost, both financially and emotionally, than could have ever been accomplished by continuing to litigate.”
The NFL still faces a somewhat uncertain future in dealing with concussions. It has still been reticent to acknowledge a link between the game and concussions, and while it has instituted rule changes aimed at reducing concussions and better treating and managing them when they occur, it still faces questions about how safe the game of football can become. Getting players, coaches, and teams to adequately report and treat concussions seriously remains a problem as well. The NFL Players Association, which was not a party to the case, declined to comment on the settlement.