Proposed concussion settlement a win for NFL

Frank Cooney, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

To be clear, this isn't over, but if the mediated settlement proposal of $765 million is approved, the National Football League has dodged an array of high-caliber bullets in the concussion lawsuit involving more than 4,500 retired players.
Senior U.S. District Judge Anita Brody announced the proposed settlement on Thursday in Philadelphia, bringing a surprisingly abrupt end to months of court-ordered mediation.
"It literally caught everybody off guard -- nobody expected it," a source close to the situation told The Sports Xchange. "They were keeping this tight. I think the commissioner knew and otherwise only those negotiating."
However, Brody still must approve the settlement. Based on early reaction by current and past players, such an approval may not be easy or popular. That is not surprising, however, because mediated settlements, by nature, are the result of both parties giving up more than they wanted.
According to the press release from Layn Phillips, the court-appointed mediator in the consolidated concussion-related lawsuits brought by the retired players against the NFL and others, the proposal ends the litigation against the NFL and NFL Properties and provides medical and other benefits, as well as compensation, to qualifying injured players or their families. Phillips is a former District Court Judge.
"This is a historic agreement, one that will make sure that former NFL players who need and deserve compensation will receive it, and that will promote safety for players at all levels of football," Judge Phillips said.
From a financial and public relations standpoint, this allows the league and its teams to move forward without the harbinger of an enormous financial, emotional -- and legal -- liability looming over them.
The cost for this relief is about $30 million per team, which, according to ForbesMoney, reflects about 2 percent of aggregated team value.
Perhaps more important, such a settlement probably means the NFL will not need to disclose internal files showing what it knew and when, regarding brain problems related to concussions. Such pre-trial disclosures might have reflected poorly on team and league officials, severely damaging the NFL's reputation.
Players' lawyer David Frederick has accused the NFL of concealing for decades the results from studies that linked concussions to neurological problems. It is probable that the NFL will now not need to respond to such accusations, not for those players in this class action suit anyway.
That, and some of the financial realities of the settlement, still leave many former players upset. Former tight end Alex Holmes, who played college football at USC and in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins in 2005, ran the numbers and decided this was not enough for another well-known Trojan alum, Junior Seau.
Seau, a popular player with the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots, took his life last year by shooting himself in the torso in order to preserve his brain for diagnosis. It was determined that he had CTE, a degenerative brain disease that many studies link to head trauma such as that caused in football.
"My good friend Junior Seau's life was just valued at 170,000," Holmes tweeted after the settlement was announced Thursday.
But if Brody continues to do her job diligently, the NFL is not home free. She is not expected to rubber-stamp the proposal and will probably demand details on specific cases, assurances on the timing of payments and also receive input from attorneys for retired players on their comfort level with such a settlement.
"From the outset of this litigation, I have expressed my belief that the interests of all parties would be best served by a negotiated resolution of this case," Brody said in a statement Thursday. "The settlement holds the prospect of avoiding lengthy, expensive and uncertain litigation, and of enhancing the game of football. "
While many current and former players have already voiced disappointment in the amount of the settlement, they must keep in mind there is the possibility that many or all of these claims in the lawsuit might have been dismissed by Judge Brody if the case moved forward.
And in a scenario that neither side would want, regardless of whatever decision would have resulted from a trial, the process could have continued to drag on for years with appeals.
As it is, even if this settlement is approved, it may not prevent future lawsuits by players not among those in the class-actions suit. However, this could be addressed if the NFL and NFL Players Association collectively bargain an agreement -- or an amendment to the current CBA -- that somehow addresses this. Such an amendment has not yet been discussed, let alone agreed upon.
Hall of Fame tight end and former head coach Mike Ditka, who has been active in battling to secure help for former players, was realistic, but circumspect, upon hearing of the proposed settlement.
"Concussions are part of the game and I know a lot of the old players need a lot of help, and it's quite a settlement, from what I understand," he said. "I think people have hid behind this too long. It's time it's out in the open. It's out in the open now so we'll see what happens."
Former NFL center and two-time NFLPA president Kevin Mawae feels he doesn't need to wait and see anything. Based on his tweet Thursday, Mawae is convinced the players were shortchanged and the league got off easy.
"NFL concussion lawsuit net outcome? Big loss for the players now and the future! Estimated NFL revenue by 2025 = $27 BILLION," he tweeted.
One-time super-agent Leigh Steinberg, whose career is once again on the ascent and includes a blog, long wrestled with the inherent inequities in the violent sport of football.
"The NFL is far and away the most popular spectator sport in this country, so it has a symbolic power to lead the way on this issue," Steinberg wrote in his Thursday blog via Forbes. "Now they are free to help raise awareness and fund prevention and treatment that will save millions from an injury that affects what it means to be human."

-- Cooney, publisher of The Sports Xchange, has covered the NFL for more than five decades and is a 20-year member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee.

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