The NFL has been notoriously guilty of trying to squeeze every bit of energy, enthusiasm and ability from its modern-day gladiators and then discarding them without regard once they reach the end of their usefulness.
That may begin to change now that a federal district court judge has given her final approval to a deal settling concussion claims. An agreement was originally reached in August 2013, but the judge asked the two sides for revisions, one to uncap the damage amount and then to remove the limit on the amount that can be spent on medical monitoring. It is expected to cost the league $1 billion over 65 years, ending thousands of concussion lawsuits. The amount will vary by player and the payout could come as soon as this summer.
The multibillion-dollar football industry can easily afford this deal, and more. Some holdouts from the settlement believe that the league should do more for its former players, and they have a point.
Hall-of-Famers Tony Dorsett and former Buffalo Bills guard Joe DeLamielleure are two of the holdouts. They say the league owes the players more, that the settlement covers only a narrow range of the maladies they suffer and that it shortchanges players who entered the league before free agency began in 1993. Players who reject the settlement retain the right to continue suing the league for injuries related to their concussions.
Years of hard hits on the field have had devastating physical effects for numerous former players. The push for compensation from some Hall-of-Famers, in addition to the suicides of some former players, has done a great deal to inform the public about the long-term effects of concussions in football and other sports.
The family of the late Junior Seau, a star linebacker for the San Diego Chargers, has opted out of the settlement. Seau killed himself in 2012 and was found to have the degenerative brain condition CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. He was only 43.
News sports reporter Tim Graham’s riveting portrait of former Buffalo Bills linebacker Darryl Talley resulted in an outpouring of support after Talley talked of the effects of his numerous injuries, including a broken neck, several surgeries and back and wrist pain. Moreover, he fears that his dozens of concussions could mean he will develop CTE.
The players willingly signed up to participate in a dangerous sport, but they did not volunteer for a lifetime of suffering caused by the league’s turning a blind eye to the sport’s consequences.
The settlement will get money to players who won’t have to wait years for legal wrangling to end. But the league still has a responsibility to care for its older players, the ones who helped build the NFL into a the financial juggernaut it is today.