NFL Gets Off Cheap in $765 Million Head Injury Settlement

by Kent Sterling

Here's a helmet that can help prevent concussions, but few players will wear it.

Here’s a helmet that can help prevent concussions, but few players will wear it.

More than 4,000 retirees and families from the NFL will share in a $765 million settlement of a lawsuit against the NFL brought by those who have suffered long-term head trauma playing pro football.

That’s roughly $180,000 each, minus the attorney fees.  If someone offered you $180K to live with dementia, would you do it?  Didn’t think so.  Now, if you were a lawyer and got one-third of $765 million and your clients lived with dementia, that’s a pretty good deal.

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This post isn’t about how first we kill the lawyers, like Shakespeare suggested.  My son is one week into law school, so my opinions about the nobility of the profession are mellowing.  After all, these former players weren’t clever enough to anticipate the collective negative effects of repeated concussions, how big a check could they have gotten the NFL to write left to their own devices?

Helmets are flawed technology, and the NFL knows it.  They can’t admit it, or they open themselves up for future liability.  They also can’t mandate the use of a safer helmet like the Xenith X2 because that would require their admission that the current helmets protect players from skull fractures and nothing more.

Many players won’t wear the Xenith because they don’t look cool enough.  I spoke to a former Pro Bowl defensive tackle who said that even knowing what he knows now about head trauma and helmet technology, he would choose to wear the same helmet he played in.

This wasn’t some addlepated boob of a former player, this is a guy who is enjoying an outstanding post-NFL career and shows all the signs of being a very intelligent man.

As long as players refuse to acknowledge and embrace their responsibility to their own health, there will continue to be head injuries that cause minor problems during their careers, but have the potential to be major health issues down the road.

The NFL has enacted rules to curb head-to-head contact as well as the practice of tackling by leading with the head, but football (especially at the professional level) is a collision sport that can cripple, maim, or cause a good man like Dave Duerson to slowly lose his mind until he can no longer tolerate living.

Our ability to enjoy any portion of life is determined by the functionality of our brains.  Without them, the party is over.  Losing a kidney, spleen, appendix, gall bladder, or having lung or heart disease wouldn’t keep me from laughing at “Caddyshack.”  Screw with the hard wiring of the brain, and you stare puzzled at Rodney Dangerfield’s antics.  To what extent the NFL owes former players a cash dividend on their lost health is debatable, as the risks were patently obvious all the way back to 19th Century football, but to pay each player a net of just over $100K for their trouble seems unjust in the same way the NCAA suspending Johnny Manziel for just one half is.  Either Manziel took cash or didn’t.  Saving face with a first half against Rice penalty is bureaucratic nonsense at its most nonsensical.

Responsibility is an all or nothing game.  Either the NFL is accountable for the lasting effects of its employees, or it is not.  There should be no kind of, halfway, maybe, half-assed, toe in the water, non-admission admission.

Whether the NFL knowingly head back science, or purposely put players in harm’s way is debatable, but what is beyond argument is that roughly $120K is nowhere near adequate for a portion of the long term care necessitated by the repeated head trauma suffered by these 4,000-plus men whose efforts put billions in the pockets of owners who only wear hats to look stylish.

3 thoughts on “NFL Gets Off Cheap in $765 Million Head Injury Settlement

  1. Dirk

    While I agree with much of the comments, the settlement avoids what would be painful and costly litigation as each player individually brought suit and had to somehow prove that their injuries were the result of playing in the NFL and not from college, high school or youth football. Many agree that football related brain injuries are from years of abuse, not a single incident. You could even argue that developing brains are more susceptible to damage, hence putting more blame at the youth/high school level.

    I also believe head injuries are a major issue for football at any level. The problem is protecting the brain from smashing into the skull, not protecting the skull from smashing into the ground (or someone else). The idea of the helmet is to dampen the force from the impact on the skull sufficiently so that the acceleration of the brain smashing into the skull is also lessened, kind of like crumple zones in cars to lessen the impact in a crash. Physics will prove this to be a really hard problem to solve and trusting the helmet to “protect” your child is mostly a fools errand with today’s technology.

  2. Paula Arizmendi

    I am a Brain Injury peer visitor at Brookdale Center Naples Fl. I saw your story about football brain injuries. I want you have our website to have information and stories for people with brain injuries. I have a brain injury from a stroke and I found about site that has so much information to help people. Ann Boriskie is the director her email is she will answer questions if you have any. I seen this story and wanted you to have this information that I just received my self. So many questions I had a answered in here. I hope TH I s helps many people you need to get the information out there they are a not-for-profit web site. Thanks for hearing me Paula Arizmendi, Naples Fl


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