The National Football League last month reached a $765 million settlement with more than 4,500 former players who sued the league for mismanaging concussions and obscuring the links between football and long-term brain injuries, but as details of the proposed settlement continue to leak, the deal is looking worse and worse. The settlement does not require the NFL to admit wrongdoing and will keep the public, including former players, from seeing research and other documents the NFL produced about concussions, but it has been hailed as a positive step forward because it gets assistance to former players who need it most.
New details from ESPN’s Mark Fanairu-Wada and and Steve Fanairu, however, show that the deal will not get assistance to all former players and their families. In fact, according to ESPN’s report, the families of players who were among the first to be diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and other brain diseases potentially related to football will be totally shut out of the settlement. And for those who are still alive, the settlement may not include enough money to adequately assist them:
• The proposed settlement disqualifies most players who died before 2006, even if they were diagnosed with football-related brain damage. That would shut out the relatives of players like Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster, who died in 2002 and was later diagnosed with the first case of football-related brain damage. Webster’s protracted battle with the NFL raised public awareness and helped ignite the NFL’s concussion crisis. [...]
• Based on information from the NFL Players Association and researchers at Boston University, there already are more than 300 cases of former players who would qualify in the highest compensation categories. Payments for those cases alone raise questions about whether $675 million allocated to severely impaired players will be enough.
The families of players who died before 2006 won’t be eligible for compensation under the settlement because the NFL insisted on applying a statute of limitations based on most basic state laws, according to ESPN. That means it will exclude the families of players like Terry Long, Mike Webster, and Justin Strzelczyk, three of the earlier players to be diagnosed with CTE, which is linked to the development of dementia, depression, and other degenerative brain diseases. Long, Webster, and Strzelczyk all committed suicide but did so before 2006, when the preferred statute of limitations kicks in. While they’re excluded, others may join them or at least receive less compensation than they should. Players with the most severe conditions — Lou Gehrig’s disease, dementia, and Alzheimer’s, for example — qualify for the maximum benefit. The number of former players who have been diagnosed with those degenerative diseases and would thus qualify, however, would bring the settlement’s total payout to $1 billion, according to ESPN, far more than the settlement provides.
Players’ logic behind settling the case was clear: they had significant legal hurdles to overcome to prove the NFL was at fault, and dragging the case through court would have meant waiting years for assistance at best and a total loss at worst. Settling now allows players to get assistance they need. But as details like these continue to emerge, it appears settling may not be the best way to bring about that assistance either, as Sports On Earth’s Patrick Hruby has argued. The NFL and the NFLPA have funds set aside that could provide even more assistance if used properly, and one former player devised a system, called the Players Health Trust, that would deliver assistance to players suffering from degenerative brain diseases.
The settlement still isn’t final. Former players can still argue that it is insufficient or opt-out of its terms, making them ineligible for benefits but able to pursue further litigation against the NFL in the future. Judge Anita Brody, who pushed the two sides into mediation in an attempt to foster a settlement, still has to approve it to make it final. This settlement may indeed help former players, but as details continue to emerge, it looks like it may do more to help the NFL sweep its concussion past back under the rug instead of sufficiently helping former players.