Commentary: Are Lawyers Getting Paid Too Much in NFL Settlement?

$122.5 million payday takes too big a chunk of money that rightly belongs to injured players.

Posted: 07/07/2014 12:23 PM EDT
Injured Player

I take a deep breath and count to 10 whenever I hear a tale that proves a point I made decades ago: Lawyers are more vulture than human.

I suspect vultures might cry slander over the comparison. They would argue a couple of things: They’re cheaper and less cruel. Oh, and they don’t scavenge everything they see.

To demean the legal profession is easy pickings, because so much of what a lawyer does deserves criticism. Still, I try to be fair to lawyers; after all, my brother, one of my college roommates and a dozen or so of my friends are all lawyers.

But I can muster no defense of lawyers when presented with a stark example of their greed, and their greediness in the latest NFL concussion settlement will keep me speaking ill of them awhile longer.

I’m not alone in my thinking, though. Seven of their clients retirees with 66 seasons of NFL play on their resumes are troubled by how big the payday for their lawyers is, too. To put a specific number on it: Lawyers are getting $122.5 million.

They didn’t earn the money; they are what led to lousy deals, which is why those seven retirees have filed an objection to the latest settlement.

The initial settlement, worth $765 million, was so pitiful a U.S. District Court judge had to reject it. If not, the judge would have saddled over 4,500 NFL retirees with compensation that guaranteed they lacked the money to cover the medical bills from living with football-related injuries.

The initial agreement in January faced criticism straightaway, and a judge could reject the revised deal, which was six months in the making.

Dollars have a way of clouding people’s judgment, and the more of them that are there for the taking, the more you wonder, in the NFL case, if the willingness of the lawyers to settle was driven by the almighty dollar, not by the best interest of their clients.

I won’t say that lawyers for the retirees didn’t work hard, and they do deserve a fair return for their work. They do not deserve $122.5 million. They took about $100 million too much.

Retirees could use a $100 million lifeline as they struggle to stay afloat, and anybody who has followed the NFL concussion lawsuit knows some of those men could use the money badly. They are physical and emotional wrecks, and these broken-down men will need these millions to keep what remains of life from shattering into shards.

Think about it: More than 4,500 were plaintiffs in the initial class-action lawsuit, which shows how small the sum of money for each would be. But according to various reports, the NFL has over 18,000 retirees, and all of them could be in need of money in their post-NFL days.

How much of the $765 million would have been available to these players had a judge not interceded?

What this question shows is that no one put the players first. Everybody kept their eye on the money: the NFL on how little it could get away with paying; the lawyers on how big their share would be of whatever the NFL agreed to pay.

Settle and not fight doesn’t seem to be what these retirees deserved. They have been in fights, and one more wouldn’t scare them. They expected their lawyers to wage that fight a fight to the end.

Instead, their lawyers, working on contingency, took the easy path here. They looked at the big numbers, calculated their share and moved on. They left their players not much better off than they were before the lawsuit was filed.

For that, they deserve no courtroom bonanza. That’s not just how I see it; it’s also how seven retirees, men with a stake in this case, see it as well. They are waging a fight with their lawyers like their lawyers should have waged against the NFL.

The retirees knew the NFL didn’t care about them, and I can see now that their lawyers didn’t care much either. Their lawyers wanted to get paid, and get paid they did.

To call $122.5 million a handsome payday would be right, but I think a better way to look at a payday so large is to call it what it is: greed.

And for retirees who can use that money more than their lawyers can, greed ain’t good.

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

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 (Photo: Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)

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