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Looking at a future filled with more bitter courtroom showdowns, weekly scandals and the potential of receiving or paying either a multi-billion dollar judgment or absolutely nothing, the National Football League and lawyers representing thousands of former players have decided to take the safe route and settle the much-discussed lawsuit concerning concussions and brain injuries. With the help of an appointed mediator who somehow was able to get both parties and multiple insurance companies on the same page, the players agreed to accept $765 million in exchange for not forcing the owners to admit they did anything wrong. The money will help to insure proper medical care for retired players, compensation for those dealing with traumatic injuries and funding for future research on head injuries.
According to ESPN, the settlement, which must still be approved by Judge Anita Brody, will offer the chance at benefits to all of the almost twenty thousand former players, whether they joined the initial lawsuit or not, as well as select families of deceased players. An independent board of doctors and specialists will be hired to determine how much each player should be entitled to based on length of NFL service and severity of injury. Those diagnosed with Parkinson’s, ALS and Alzheimer’s will have their awards capped at $5 million, while those with dementia will get at most $3 million.
Few lawsuits are as complicated or as polarizing to the general public as this one. At its heart sits two basic questions. Did NFL owners intentionally hide evidence of long-term concussion risks from players? And how much are players responsible for their own fates since they’re willingly signing up to play a dangerous game in exchange for millions of dollars? There is no consensus answer, especially when it comes to the second question, which is why some experts thought a jury could award the players $5 billion or more, while others were confident they would be awarded absolutely nothing. Given those risks, it never made sense to go to trial for either side.
The NFL hasn't announced exactly how the settlement will be paid if it’s approved, but it’s widely assumed that every owner will simply contribute $24 million. Half has to be paid within the next three years, and the other half can be paid in installments over the subsequent seventeen. No current players will be eligible for any of the money, as there are new provisions in the collective bargaining agreement. Since players can choose to opt out and try to sue in their home districts, it’s likely this mess will still take years to clean up, but that’s a whole lot better than the ominous cloud hanging over the NFL for the next decade plus.
Over the past few years, the NFL has worked extremely hard to try and present a more wholesome, more accepting and less dangerous image. In many respects, the plan has worked, and fans are still as rabid as ever. Hopefully, this settlement will close the book on openness problems the league may have had in the past and help usher in a new age of togetherness and safety.