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NFL concussion settlement doesn't add up for players

Jay Hart
Yahoo Sports

The NFL has reached a settlement with retired players in their massive concussion lawsuit against the league. The agreement: $765 million spread out over 20 years. Sounds like a lot. Let's put it in perspective.

Per Thursday's settlement, the NFL will pay out $127.5 million over each of the first three years, then $22.5 million per over the next 17. Last year, the NFL boasted revenue of $9.8 billion. That means that the first three years of the settlement will cost the NFL 1.3 percent of its total revenue, and 0.2 percent for the 17 years after that.

And this assumes revenue won't grow. Minutes after the agreement was announced, former Pro Bowl center and NFL Players Association president Kevin Mawae tweeted, "NFL concussion lawsuit net outcome? Big loss for the players now and the future! Estimated NFL revenue by 2025 = $27 BILLION."

You do the math. (Hint: Add a few zeros before the decimal point)

Make no mistake, the money coming out of this suit will go a long way in helping more than 4,500 retired players involved in the suit pay their medical bills. (How those payments will be doled out isn't yet clear.) And it will hit their bank accounts a lot sooner than had there been a long, dragged out lawsuit that was certainly in the making.

That said, a billion dollars (which is about what the settlement will cost the NFL after legal fees) is a small price for this league to pay in order to make this threat go away, and potentially a fraction of what the bill could have been if this process had culminated in a trial.

"If it goes to a jury and the case is made that the NFL knew about [the risks of concussions] and didn't respond correctly, meaningfully and sufficiently, the [financial] damages could be quite unimaginable," explained attorney Ronald Shechtman, managing partner of Pryor Cashman's labor and employment group.

Estimates of the unimaginable put the tag at $2 billion, which will no doubt leave some of the 4,500 plaintiffs wondering if they should hold out.

As explained by labor attorney Lee Seham, class-action suits are a win-win for plaintiffs whose damages don't justify the cost of hiring legal representation individually. Think Blockbuster, which faced a class-action suit for excessive late fees. Individually, the case would have been worth a few bucks. Combined, the suit totaled millions, though most of that went to attorneys.

But the class-action suit against the NFL didn't involve a group of people who were out a few bucks. It included people facing severe health issues, lost wages and even suicide.

If you're a 23-year-old forced to retire because, in your estimation, your team downplayed concussion symptoms, would a few hundred thousand bucks make up for the potential millions you lost?

"I think it is inevitable that there will be many individuals who will be short-changed by this settlement in terms of what they might have obtained in individualized litigation," Seham said. "Let's not forget, health has been destroyed and productive working lives cut short. Many of the affected individuals might have obtained considerably larger jury awards."

Whether the NFL is culpable or not – and the agreement makes it clear that by settling the league is not admitting guilt to the accusation that for decades it hid the risks of concussions and returned players to games when they knew they shouldn't have – the harsh reality is some of the retired players and their families are dealing with issues that no amount of money can fix.

Jim McMahon suffers from dementia.

Tony Dorsett experiences memory loss.

Junior Seau is dead.

None of this can be reversed, which is why the highlight of the settlement might just be the NFL's agreement to put $10 million toward the research and education of cognitive injury. Some will call it a CYA move by the league, others will scream that it's not enough – and maybe they're right. But it's a step toward preventing players from having to deal with the same issues in the future. That shouldn't be ignored, especially considering next Thursday, when the 2013 NFL season kicks off and many of us will be applauding really hard hits.

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