This week, I sat down with Kevin Glass, the managing editor at Townhall.com, on his Bloggingheads show to talk about the NFL concussion settlement and its implications for the future of football. Kevin and I worked through several topics related to concussions during the discussion, but I wanted to highlight one portion where we discussed a point that has often gone missing during the debate over whether the $765 million settlement 4,500 former players reached with the NFL was fair.
As I noted in my original piece about the settlement, it allows the NFL to escape without admitting fault or taking responsibility for how it handled (or did not handle) concussions — a standard practice in legal settlements. It also allowed the NFL to avoid a discovery process that could have revealed research and testimony highlighting just how negligent the league was for decades. Losing that opportunity is certainly a shame, an opinion I share with many commentators, and it may hurt our ability to learn something that could help us make football safer in the future. It would have been great to have that opportunity.
But one aspect of this case that gets lost, I think, is that it wasn’t necessarily about the future of football. We in the media, myself included, often made it about that, and there are aspects of this case that will play a significant role in how football develops and evolves going forward. But in the end, these lawsuits originated to help former players right a wrong perpetuated against them, and the treatment options now available to them should actually help them going forward. This lawsuit was more about football’s past and trying to remedy the injustices former players faced on the field then, as Kevin and I discuss here:
The fairness of the settlement is still worthy of discussion even in that context. But I’m still not certain I — or anyone who wasn’t party to this suit — is able to properly answer whether the settlement was the right thing to do or not. I don’t have brain trauma or disease resulting from football. I didn’t lose a loved one to Alzheimer’s, dementia, Lou Gehrig’s disease, or suicide that may have resulted from brain trauma tied to football. I can’t possibly put a number on what it would take to remedy those pains, though I have no doubt no amount of money would be sufficient to remedy some of them. And while ensuring that the NFL and all of our football leagues do better by future players than they did by these 4,500 and countless others is of utmost importance, this case was less about that than about trying to fix the wrongs of its past.
Maybe we’re slightly worse off because we won’t see the documents, the research, and the testimony we’d have seen had this case gone forward. But thousands of former players are going to receive treatment that many of them wouldn’t have received had this settlement not occurred. The final number and other points of the settlement are worthy of debate. But going forward for the sole purpose of seeing every document the NFL had would have meant ignoring many of the legal hurdles facing the suit and opening the door to the possibility that the players who needed help most might have received nothing at all.