Commentary: Judge Is Right to Reject NFL Concussion Settlement

Money the league agreed to pay wasn’t nearly enough to fix the lives of broken men.

Posted: 01/15/2014 12:52 PM EST
Filed Under Sports News, concussion, NFL

To some, the figure of $765 million sounded like a king’s ransom. The money from the National Football League could surely be used used by broken men who had or will have medical problems that will saddle their families with bills far north of a billion dollars.

But a bad bargain is a bad bargain, and when you looked at how many broken men might have a need, $765 million wasn’t going to provide much financial support for the upward of 20,000 NFL retirees who might put in a claim for some of it.

That’s not just my thinking either. The other day, a federal judge in Philadelphia ruled that way. U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody rejected the NFL settlement of a class-action suit.

In a 12-page opinion Tuesday, Brody argued she had doubts all retirees, men whose minds and bodies were a scrambled mess after seasons in the NFL, would be compensated from their claims. She reasoned that $765 million doesn’t stretch far.

To me, the retired players couldn’t have gotten better news. Brody saved them from themselves; she saved them from looking at short-term benefits at the expense of the long term.

For NFL players, the long term doesn’t look promising.

Countless stories have been written and broadcast about the crippled players who suited up in the NFL. For most of those men, the league masked the risk of playing professional football.

Team doctors tended not to look out for their patients but for the men who were signing their checks.

Theirs was, in a sense, a conspiracy of silence. Or, as a PBS Frontline program called it: "A League of Denial."

Deny that the NFL hid the truth about concussions; deny the dangers inherent in professional football; and deny that those dangers have manifested themselves in pain and deaths.

Once the denial ended, the question became this: How little can the NFL and its owners pay to get rid of the legal actions they faced as a result of those dangers and those concussions?

With so many retirees to track, the settlement, designed to last 65 years, would not have brought much financial relief to many athletes, which is what Brody must have seen.

Those who support the settlement think Brody will get enough information from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s office to approve the deal. If she does approve it, she will have sanctioned what the league did, a league that cared less about its players than “Big Tobacco” cared about its customers.

The NFL isn’t “Big Tobacco,” but it is big business. So the courts should extract the same sorts of monetary settlements from the NFL that they got from the tobacco industry.

For there is a price the NFL must pay to those broken men, but the price is more than $765 million.

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

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(Photo: Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

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