NFL, former players agree to revised concussion settlement

Rob Carr

The NFL has agreed to lift the cap on monetary funds that can go to former players suffering from brain injuries that occurred as a result of their professional football careers.

The NFL has agreed to a revised settlement with former players who sued the league for brain injuries suffered during their playing days. The original $765 million settlement, reached last August, pledged $675 million in a monetary fund to compensate former players and the families of deceased players who suffered from cognitive injury. In the revised deal, that monetary fund will not be capped at a specific dollar amount, the NFL and the players' counsel announced in a joint statement.

What's different in the revised settlement?

The uncapped monetary fund is the biggest thing, although there were several minor changes to the settlement that could have a big impact on players. Chris Seeger, lead counsel for the retired players in the lawsuit, enumerated several in a conference call Wednesday afternoon:

  • Players spearheaded the changes. Seeger and his team felt that the $675 million monetary fund -- a sum he said would have amounted to more than $1 billion over the course of the program due to interest -- would have been enough to compensate players. The players wanted assurance that the fund wouldn't dry up, however, and received a guarantee that they will be compensated.
  • In exchange, the NFL received checks against fraud. An approved physician network will be created with oversight of the plaintiffs' legal team, and both the league and players will be able to veto independent doctors. The NFL will also have the ability to appeal settlement claims as often as it would like. The original deal allowed the NFL to appeal a claim up to 10 times.
  • Interestingly, the original settlement relieved the NCAA, among other levels of football, of liability, as well, saving the organization from being sued by those enrolled in the program. The new settlement does away with the liability waiver, however, allowing retired players to potentially sue the NCAA for injuries sustained while playing college football.

Players enrolled in the program can receive compensation for up to 65 years. Any player that has retired prior to the date of preliminary approval (still pending) is eligible to take advantage of the program. Unfortunately for current players, that means they may have to follow separate suits against the NFL if they would like additional compensation for their injuries.

Seeger also explained that players with mild neurocognitive impairment -- the example used in the call was chronic headaches or lack of focus, but no diagnosis of an eligible disorder -- can also be compensated by the program, though not monetarily. Instead, they can enter a baseline program, which will provide testing and treatment. If those players later develop a serious neurocognitive disorder, they can then pull from the fund for the full 65-year length of the program.

The NFL had already agreed to pitch in with more minor, but significant gestures, including $10 million for education on concussion prevention, and the costs of administration and notifying players affected by the settlement.

Like the original settlement, the revised agreement removes the NFL's liability for the injuries sustained by the former players, who argued that the league knowingly concealed the long-term damaging effects on the brain caused by playing football. The plaintiffs, among them several Pro Football Hall of Famers, reportedly wanted $2 billion at the start of mediation before settling on a lesser amount.

The statement went into more detail about terms of the settlement, and who is entitled to compensation:

Consistent with the settlement announced last year, the revised agreement provides a wide range of benefits to retired NFL players and their families, including a separate fund to offer all eligible retirees a comprehensive medical exam and follow-up benefits, and an injury compensation fund for retirees who have suffered cognitive impairment, including dementia, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's or ALS. Where the retiree is deceased or unable to pursue his claim, a family member may do so on his behalf. While actuarial estimates from both parties supported the $765 million settlement that was announced in August, this new agreement will ensure funds are available to any eligible retired player who develops a compensable injury.

Is it enough?

The original settlement was panned by many for the dollar amount it placed on the plaintiffs' suffering -- $170,000 per man -- though it did pledge payments of up to $5 million for injured players. The revised settlement may somewhat soothe those who were offended by the initial $765 million offering, though as David Roth pointed out at the time, any amount of money can't fully address the root issues with football and the now-guiltless NFL:

And this, too, exists in a space beyond change. What happens to a brain does not un-happen to it; there is more money in the NFL than even its king plutocrats can comprehend, but there is not enough money to fix a brain that has been pounded in football's direction. If this lawsuit was going to change anything, it would not be to save these lives -- or even to save the lives of the players playing in the NFL and dreaming of it, because the game is and does what it is and does, which all of them well know. The greatest possible change would have been to force the NFL to make this suffering its business, and to make its costs part of the cost of doing that business.

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