What players' brain damage will cost the NFL

Chicago TribuneJuly 17, 2014 

The following editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune on Tuesday, July 15:

Football fans need no reminding of the danger the game poses to the brains of players.

There is no undoing the harm to NFL veterans, some 5,000 of whom joined in a class-action lawsuit accusing the league of concealing what it knew about the dangers. But thanks to a settlement approved recently by a federal court, they will get substantial financial compensation that will make their lives less difficult.

The settlement, which goes to a vote of approval by the league's 18,000 retired players, is markedly better than the version hammered out last year by lawyers for the two sides. That plan spelled out what players and their beneficiaries would get for various ailments, which promised quick payouts to those in need. "The big picture was we got immediate care to the retired players, and I think we accomplished that," a lawyer for the players said then.

It limited the league's exposure by capping total payments at $765 million. Attorneys for the players thought that sum was plenty to cover everyone. But Judge Anita Brody rejected the deal because she feared the fund would run out, leaving some claimants stranded. A study by The New York Times indicated the fear was well-founded: It estimated that $1 billion might be needed.

So the two sides resumed negotiations and came up with a revised agreement. The cap on total payouts was removed, assuring that no one will be left high and dry. As in the original version, players don't have to prove that their problems were caused by playing pro football, and the NFL doesn't admit fault.

Players will be paid according to their level of impairment, with maximums varying from $1.5 million to $5 million, with age of onset and number of years in the league factored in. They won't be barred from suing the NCAA or any other football organization.

To prevent fraudulent or erroneous claims, doctors from an approved list will have to examine players to confirm they have conditions covered by the fund. The league will be allowed to challenge as many claims as it chooses, instead of the 10 per year in the first settlement.

The agreement also commits the NFL to spending $75 million for a "baseline assessment program" for all retired players and $10 million for safety education efforts, partly in youth football programs.

Any settlement of a lawsuit can be criticized by one side or the other. But this one offers players money that many of them badly need to pay for medical needs and assistance in living. It spares them years of litigation and the uncertainties of a trial, where a jury might figure that brain damage is just one of the risks football players choose to take.

As a result of all the collisions they endured on the field, thousands of former NFL players are now seriously impaired. This settlement is a big step in easing the burdens on them and their families.

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