Earlier this week, the National Football League reached a $765 million agreement with more than 4,500 former players who had accused the NFL of misleading them about the long-term dangers of head trauma.
The deal allows the NFL to admit no fault.
At first blush it appears to be a pretty big deal for the plaintiffs. The payout, on average, would be about $170,000 per player, but that's dependent on each's medical condition and doesn't take into account $85 million set aside for medical tests and scientific research. Under the settlement, individual awards would be capped at $5 million for men with Alzheimer's disease; $4 million for those diagnosed after their deaths with chronic traumatic encephalopathy; and $3 million for players with dementia.
Any of the approximately 18,000 former NFL players would be eligible, and not just the 4,500 who signed on to the lawsuit.
U.S. District Judge Anita Brody in Philadelphia has to approve the deal for it to be final.
While the NFL long has denied any wrongdoing, Commissioner Roger Goodell told the NFL's attorneys to "do the right thing for the game and the men who played it," according to NFL.com.
"In other words, the league has agreed to make this $765 million payment simply because it was feeling generous," wrote Jonathan Mahler, a sports columnist for Bloomberg View, with, we are sure, a healthy dose of sarcasm.
It's not surprising the NFL decided to settle, especially if you consider the regular season is set to kick off in one week. Add on top of that the controversy created when the NFL forced ESPN into dropping out of a PBS documentary on the long-term effects of concussions and a recent GQ article on the decline of San Diego Charger (and one-time New England Patriot) Junior Seau, who committed suicide last year. An autopsy revealed brain damage that might be linked to the numerous concussions he received over his 16 years in the league.
And according to NFL.com, "The settlement most likely means the NFL won't have to disclose internal files about what it knew, and when, about concussion-linked brain problems. Lawyers had been eager to learn, for instance, about the workings of the league's Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee, which was led for more than a decade by a rheumatologist."
Dr. Elliot Pellman, the aforementioned rheumatologist, once said that concussions were part of the game -- "an occupational risk."
The Wall Street Journal's Jeremy Gordon calls football "an irrevocable exchange of one's health for money and our entertainment ... a Luciferian tradeoff that might not seem so fun decades after the moment, when accrued injuries have reduced the player to a collection of hard knocks and unhealed injuries."
"The NFL is a violent, dangerous place where every player who comes on to the field puts his body and health, physical and mental, short-term and long-term, on the line," noted the Guardian. "This settlement will allow the NFL to continue without making changes beyond mere cosmetic ones. It's hard to read this result as anything other than a license for the NFL to continue with the status quo without worrying about this particular type of lawsuit again."
And if you consider the NFL made $9.5 billion last season, $765 million is "chump change."
As Deadspin noted: "If the NFL keeps generating $9 billion in annual revenue for the next 20 years, which is a very conservative estimate given the growth of the league, it would bring in $180 billion by the time the concussion money was all paid out."
And according to ESPN, the deal is especially good for the team owners, because if it's divided up evenly, each only has to pay $24 million, much of which will come from the league and team insurance.
But, as Gordon noted, "One of the more interestingly human things about the concussion lawsuits filed against the NFL is how many of the players claim they don't regret their decision to play football, that they would even let their children and children's children slap on a helmet if they wanted to. This, despite the scar tissue and jagged memories and lifetime of medical procedures gone laughably uncovered by a minuscule pension system."
And perhaps most to blame for the failure of the NFL to address the issue of on-field concussions is we the fans, who gladly don our replica jerseys, slap on the facepaint and down gallons of beer and eat dozens of chicken wings as we root on our teams and "oooohhh" and "aaaahhh" over the tremendous hits we know one day will take their toll on our heroes on the gridiron.
These guys are the equivalent of the gladiators who strode into the Coliseum for the purpose of entertaining the masses, all the while knowing they might not make it out alive. The only difference is, except for the rare instances, death is a slow process instead of the quick "thumbs down" death for which the Roman Empire is famous.
But, if you think about it, our rabid fanaticism for football is, in effect, a thumbs down to each and every player that steps onto the field; we are asking them to sacrifice their bodies, brains and mental well-being for our entertainment.
The only real solution is for each and every one of us to turn off the TV on gameday, not go to the stadiums, not buy the paraphernalia and keep our own children on the sidelines until the NFL makes real changes that will protect the health of those who make billions of dollars for the organization.
With only one week to go for the start of the season, we don't see that happening.