The NFL has agreed to spend close to $800 million US to diagnose and compensate potentially hundreds of retired players who may be suffering from dementia and other brain disorders they blame on the violent, bone-jarring collisions that pro football has long celebrated in its highlight reels.
The settlement, which is subject to approval by a federal judge, was announced Thursday after months of court-ordered mediation. It came just days before the first game of the 2013 season, removing a major legal and financial threat hanging over the NFL.
Reaction to concussions settlement
- Concussions are part of the game. I know a lot of the old players need a lot of help, and it's quite a settlement, from what I understand. ... I think people have hid behind this too long. It's time it's out in the open. It's out in the open now so we'll see what happens. — former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka
- NFL concussion lawsuit net outcome? Big loss for the players now and the future! Estimated NFL revenue by 2025 (equals) $27 BILLION — former NFL player Kevin Mawae in a tweet
- Glad to see the older guys are getting taken care of with the concussion settlement. It'll never be enough, but it's a start. Curious, though, what the NFL is going to do after putting $765 million into figuring out you can't pad the inside of someone's head. — Oakland Raiders punter Chris Kluwe on Twitter.
- I am able to live my life the same way I was, but now — chances are I am 44 now I won't make it to 50 or 60 — I have money now to put back for my children to go to college and for a little something to be there financially. ... The compensation provided in this settlement will lift a huge burden off the men who are suffering right now, for both them and their families, of course. It will give them the peace of mind to have the best quality of life they can have. No longer have to make decisions regarding their health based on what they can afford, but based on what is the best treatment for them. — former NFL running back Kevin Turner, who has Lou Gehrig's disease.
- It's part of the game why sue — former NFL receiver Chad (Ochocinco) Johnson in a tweet
- I'm shocked that it is settled. I'm used to the NFL taking a hard-line approach as they have throughout the years with strikes and everything else. I'm curious how they came up with the figure and I've got a lot of questions, but I am happy that it's done. Any time the NFL acknowledges they are ready to settle something, it shows they knew they had some sort of negligence. — former offensive lineman Lomas Brown, a seven-time Pro Bowler who had sued the league
- The settlement includes much-needed medical care and monitoring of former players, as well as a commitment to research funding. — The Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, which has been examining brains of deceased NFL players to try to determine what sort of connection exists between football and brain disease.
- The NFL is far and away the most popular spectator sport in this country, so it has a symbolic power to lead the way on this issue. Now they are free to help raise awareness and fund prevention and treatment that will save millions from an injury that affects what it means to be human. — agent Leigh Steinberg in op-ed on Forbes.com
— The Associated Press
More than 4,500 former athletes — some suffering from dementia, depression or Alzheimer's that they blamed on blows to the head — have sued the NFL since the first case was filed in Philadelphia in 2011. They accused the league of concealing the long-term dangers of concussions and rushing injured players back onto the field, while glorifying and profiting from the game's violence.
The settlement would cover all 18,000 former NFL players and totals $765 million, the vast majority of which would go to compensate athletes with certain neurological ailments. It would also set aside $75 million for medical exams and $10 million for medical research.
Individual payouts would be capped at $5 million for men with Alzheimer's disease; $4 million for those diagnosed after their deaths with a brain condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy; and $3 million for players with dementia, said lead plaintiffs' lawyer Christopher Seeger.
The NFL has insisted that safety has always been a top priority, and in settling the thousands of cases it admitted no wrongdoing.
"This agreement lets us help those who need it most and continue our work to make the game safer for current and future players," NFL executive vice president Jeffrey Pash said in a statement. He added: "We thought it was critical to get more help to players and families who deserve it rather than spend many years and millions of dollars on litigation."
He said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the team owners told pro football's lawyers to "do the right thing for the game and for the men who played it."
McMahon, Dorsett among plaintiffs
The plaintiffs include Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett, Super Bowl-winning quarterback Jim McMahon and the family of Pro Bowl selection Junior Seau, who committed suicide last year.
Kevin Turner, a former running back with the Patriots and Eagles who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, thanked the two sides for reaching an agreement that he thought most ex-players would support.
"Chances are ... I won't make it to 50 or 60," said Turner, now 44. "I have money now to put back for my children to go to college and for a little something to be there financially."
All former NFL players are eligible to seek care, screening or compensation. The amounts they receive will be based on their age, condition and years of play.
Players' lawyers said they expect the fund to cover the ex-athletes' expenses for 65 years. Current players are not covered.
Senior U.S. District Judge Anita Brody in Philadelphia announced the proposed agreement and will consider approving it at a later date.
The settlement most likely means the NFL won't have to disclose internal files about what it knew, and when, about concussion-linked brain problems. Some observers had warned that the lawsuits could cost the league $1 billion or more if they were allowed to move forward in court.
"I think it's more important that the players have finality, that they're vindicated, and that as soon as the court approves the settlement they can begin to get screening, and those that are injured can get their compensation. I think that's more important than looking at some documents," said lawyer Sol Weiss of Philadelphia, who filed the first lawsuit on behalf of former Atlanta Falcon Ray Easterling and a few others. Easterling later committed suicide.
Teams bear chief reponsibility: NFL
In court arguments before Brody in April, the NFL asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuits and send them to arbitration under terms of the players' contract. The league argued that individual teams bear the chief responsibility for health and safety under the collective bargaining agreement, along with the players' union and the players themselves.
But the players' lawyers accused the NFL of concealing for decades studies linking concussions to neurological problems.
Dorsett said each day is getting harder for him, as he struggles with memory problems.
"It's frustrating. Frustrating. And to have a 10-year old daughter who says to her mother, 'Daddy can't do this because Daddy won't remember how to do it,' it's not a good feeling," he said. "I'm glad to see there's been ... acknowledgment that football has had something to do with a lot of the issues us players are going through right now."
In recent years, a string of former NFL players and other athletes who suffered concussions have been diagnosed after their deaths with CTE, including both Seau and Easterling. More than 4,500 former players eventually joined the litigation. The number of claims, including spouses and survivors, could top 20,000, the NFL said.
While some of those who sued suffered brain ailments, others were worried about future problems and wanted their health monitored.
The lawsuits and a growing awareness that concussions — once routinely laughed off by football players as "Getting your bell rung" — can have serious long-term effects have already spurred research into better helmets and changed the way the game is played.
The NFL has instituted rule changes designed to eliminate hits to the head and neck, protect defenceless players, and prevent athletes who have had concussions from playing or practicing until they are fully recovered. Independent neurologists must be consulted before a player can return to action.
One key rule change that takes effect this season bars ball carriers from using the crown of the helmet to make contact with defenders.
Text of judge's order about proposed concussion settlement
Earlier today, in accordance with the reporting requirements in my order of July 8, 2013, the Honorable Layn Phillips, the court-appointed mediator, informed me that the plaintiffs and the NFL defendants had signed a Term Sheet incorporating the principal terms of a settlement. Judge Phillips also reported that the proposed settlement provides for a payment by the NFL defendants of $765,000,000 to fund medical exams, concussion-related compensation, and a program of medical research for retired NFL players and their families, as well as to pay certain litigation expenses. In addition to this, the NFL will pay court-approved attorneys' fees. Furthermore, Judge Phillips advised me that the parties are preparing to submit a motion seeking preliminary court approval of the settlement that will incorporate the full documentation relating to the settlement.
Of course, I reserve judgment on the fairness, reasonableness, and adequacy of the settlement until the motions for preliminary and final approval of the settlement are filed. At that time, counsel must present a complete explanation and justification for the settlement. Right now, however, I commend the parties and their counsel on their extensive and good faith negotiations and thank Judge Phillips for his diligence in assisting the parties in reaching an agreement.
From the outset of this litigation, I have expressed my belief that the interests of all parties would be best served by a negotiated resolution of this case. The settlement holds the prospect of avoiding lengthy, expensive and uncertain litigation, and of enhancing the game of football.
In light of the proposed settlement by the plaintiffs and the NFL defendants, I will defer ruling on the NFL's motion to dismiss that was argued on April 9, 2013. After conferring with the parties, I will order that counsel submit, as soon as possible, but by a date certain, the full documentation relating to the settlement, along with a motion seeking preliminary approval of the settlement and related plan of notice to members of the settlement class.
AND NOW, this 29th day of August, 2013, the order of July 8, 2013 is modified to allow the parties to announce the terms of the settlement of the plaintiffs' claims against the NFL defendants. Because the proposed settlement does not include the Riddell defendants, the order of July 8, 2013 remains in effect as to all of the Riddell defendants: they and their counsel must refrain from publicly discussing the mediation process or disclosing any discussions they may have as part of that process.
Source: U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania