Commentary: Former Kansas City Chiefs Seek More Than Pocket Change for Brain Injuries

By rejecting settlement, players take stand against the NFL.

Posted: 12/09/2013 07:00 AM EST
Commentary: Former Kansas City Chiefs Seek More Than Pocket Change for Brain Injuries

Former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Chris Martin. (Photo: Colin E. Braley/AP Photo)

They didn’t want pocket change. They wanted justice — justice for the restless nights, for the headaches that never go away, for the memories that their minds can’t grab hold of and keep fresh. And justice isn’t bought with pocket change, not in a society as litigious as this one is.

So instead of taking the pennies the NFL offered them to resolve a class-action suit over brain injuries, they opted out of the $765 million settlement. They found an attorney of their own to take on the NFL.

They are their own “Gang of Five” now, solo acts who have decided to take on a multi-billion-dollar sports league. But Leonard Griffin, Chris Martin, Joe Phillips, Alexander Louis Cooper and Kevin Porter, all of whom played for the Kansas City Chiefs, might not be the only former players to reconsider the settlement, as more and more retirees weigh what their split will be of the $765 million the NFL agreed to pay them.

Do the math. Divided among as many as 19,000 or more retirees, $765 million is inadequate compensation for the shattered lives or the scrambled mess inside each of these men’s heads. “Getting your bell rung” should pay a man more than what the NFL is willing.

For what we now know, thanks to the PBS special League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis last month and a string of research from various sources, is a “bell rung” too often can lead to Alzheimer's disease and to a brain condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). No man wants to live with either of these medical issues.

But if players like Griffin, Martin, Phillips, Cooper and Porter are forced to live with these horrible diseases, and NFL players are discovering they must, they’ll all need more than the monetary limits tied to the settlement, capped at $5 million for the worst of the cases.

Doubtless, some of their peers did need the money — and needed it now. The effects of football have made a wreck of their health and their private lives, so any money the men could receive beats waiting in line for an uncertain outcome in a federal courtroom.

But while rushing to settle brought some financial relief, did these retirees strike a bargain with the devil?

The question isn’t easy to answer, because the NFL might well have tied up the original case in a legal knot for years to come. Commissioner Roger Goodell and his phalanx of lawyers were like the 1984 Bears’ defense: determined not to budge an inch.

Yet lawyers for the Gang of Five saw beyond the present and imagined these dollars in the long term, and what they saw, as some legal analysts of the settlement had argued, was the NFL throwing pennies at a multi-billion-dollar problem.

Pennies are appeasement, and the men who agreed to settle rather than litigate the case might learn this lesson as they grow older and their minds become less steady. They will wish for a different end.

For now, eyes are fixed on this latest lawsuit, which will send the NFL lawyers back into the courtroom. They might have to fight this concussion case to the death, because the men waging the fight have rejected conciliation and have demanded justice.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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