The Concussion Lawsuit: Breaking Down the Settlement

The NFL has been dealing with some negative PR on multiple fronts. One of the biggest spectors haunting the NFL has been the case of the league versus around 4,500 former players. The growing concern about concussions and their long-term ramifications has been something that has taken center stage in the sports world far beyond the football field.

Josh cribbs
Josh Cribbs take a hit

The NFL settled the class action lawsuit against them for $765 million. This combines all previous concussion lawsuits into one group due to the like characteristics of each case. The settlement includes all former players and even extends to ones who have yet to file. This is an attempt at putting a final price tag of the financial consequences that concussions could inflict on the league.

The laymen definition of a concussion is a bruise on the brain and even a small one can have disastrous effects on a person. Concussions have a history of bringing even the toughest players to their metaphoric knees by diminishing their quality of life. Considering the nature of the sport of football, the NFL had a legitimate reason to be concerned.

There are many players, including Tony Dorsett, who have been having memory problems at ages much lower than the norm. Other players, like Junior Seau took their own life as a result of the brain damage done from football.

Aldon Smith and Drew Brees
Aldon Smith and Drew Brees

Looking at it from a financial point of view, this is a partial win-win. The league is a major winner. Considering that the league has an annual revenue of around $9 billion, spending less than 10% to rid themselves of this lingering issue is certainly reasonable, but that isn’t really where the league wins. The real win for the league may be within the settlement’s finer print. For one, only half of the settlement is due within three years. The other half is due over a 17 year period to give the full payment within 20 years. While this gives the league plenty of time to accumulate and allocate the actual cash, there is a larger reason for them to celebrate.Brain scan

The league’s true victory comes from the fact the settlement requires no admission of wrong doing. Since the case won’t go to trial, the NFL will not have to disclose what they knew about concussions and when they figured it out. There are whispers around the sports world that the NFL knew about at least some of the negative effects of concussions from as long as a couple of decades ago and withheld the information from players. The original payout the players were seeking was about $2 billion.

With such a small amount of the estimate being paid out, one has to wonder why the players are settling? The answer is simple: The older players need help today. If this went to trial, it could be years before a final resolution was had after the initial trial and appeals process that would follow. In this case, the players partially win. The older players win because they get the help they need today, but the there is a lot on the table that is being permanently forfeited by accepting the settlement. Another reason for settling is that is removes the risk of uncertainty of receiving less or having the case dismissed.

NFL Concussions

As a part of the settlement, different payouts are capped based on the conditions the player has or had suffered from. The settlement payouts break down like this: 5 million for those suffering from Alzheimer’s, 4 million for those who died from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, commonly known as CTE, and 3 million for those suffering from dementia. Please note that CTE is discovered after the player has died during their autopsy, such as Junior Seau.  Until then, they do not qualify for that portion. Spread out over all the plaintiffs, the payout averages to about $166,000. All former players, even ones who were not involved in the preceding cases, are eligible to apply.

The league according to some got the better end of this settlement. They get to pay out far less than expected and keep any potential skeletons in the closet. The players are leaving a lot of potential money to get today’s guarantee. While it will help some, with the rising health care costs, the amount being provided may not be enough. Today, the average cost of a nursing home is around $80,000 per year and rising. That equates to two years based on the average payout.

NFL concussion Brain-helmet 350One question that lingers is whether this will slow down the NFL’s crusade against concussions since their financial liability now been in part capped.  There are a growing number of former players who have gone on the record to say they will not allow their kids to play football because of the risks. It is possible that average parents might hear these comments and follow suit. So another question is will the talent pool for eligible players shrink significantly over the next few years.

While all of this is conjecture, this settlement forces everyone to think about what can and should the league and the players do to protect themselves,  whose responsibility is it to care for players after their time on the field is done, and finally, would you want your child to grow up to be a football player.


Host of the OT with Andrew G and lead NCAA writer for the Sports Chronicles Radio Network

Host of The College Cram on the National Gridiron Network

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