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Opinion: NFL Settlement Small, But Good for Football's Future

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USA TODAY
August 30, 2013 Friday
FA CHASE EDITION
SPORTS; Pg. 1C
749 words
Settlement aids football's future
Jarrett Bell,jbell@usatoday.com,USA TODAY Sports

That's all?

Not to suggest $765million is chump change, but in the Monopoly money world of pro football, the proposed settlement of the concussion suit brought by former players against the NFL is not enough.

The NFL wins again.

A PR nightmare has been swept away just before the kickoff of another glorious football campaign complete with its fantasy leagues and point spreads.

Just $765million?

That's less than half of the $1.9billion the NFL receives annually from ESPN for the rights to Monday Night Football.

When considering the green the NFL generates -- nearly $10billion in 2012 -- the payout split amounting to about $24million per franchise seems like a drop in the bucket.

Even better for the league, files that could have been exposed during discovery that might have proved the NFL knew more about long-term consequences of head injuries are sealed shut -- for $765million, payable over 20 years.

Kevin Mawae, the former NFL Players Association president, tweeted the NFL's projected revenue for 2025 is $27billion.

Think of the battered and broken former NFL players, including the more than 4,500 who signed up for one or another of the consolidated lawsuits, and put a price on that.

Tally up the memory loss, the depression, the susceptibility to Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's, the links to ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) -- which plaintiffs might argue could be traced to playing pro football -- and the NFL would surely need its shield.

But think again.

This was going to be an incredibly difficult case to prove in court.

Mr. Former Linebacker: Did your first concussion occur in high school?

Mr. Ex-Quarterback: How many times was your bell rung in college?

It is plausible a player could advance from Pop Warner to Friday Night Lights to Super Saturdays and not have a single concussion.

I wouldn't bet my money on that, but it's possible.

Now prove it, one way or another.

"It's easy to throw around big numbers," said Cyrus Mehri, one of the lead litigators in big discrimination settlements involving Texaco and Coca-Cola. "But it's harder to prove that number."

Mehri called the settlement reasonable and expects the compromise involved a formula that used a sampling of former players and weighed the severity of their conditions.

The settlement caps awards for those suffering from Alzheimer's disease at $5million, while awards can be as much as $4million for families of those who died with CTE. Dementia cases are capped at $3million.

"I'm sure both sides had to move substantially from their original positions," Mehri added. "But for the players, there's a bird-in-hand factor as well."

Kevin Turner, a former running back battling ALS, hailed the agreement. When I saw Turner a few months ago after a court hearing in Philadelphia, he wondered if he would live to see a resolution.

"The best thing about the settlement is that it's happening now," Turner said on a video statement released by attorneys.

Better now than in, say, 2018. Experts had projected that discovery alone would have taken two to four years before the case reached trial.

"The first person I thought about when this came down was Kevin Turner," Dorsey Levens, another former running back and plaintiff, told USA TODAY Sports. "He was worried that this wouldn't happen before he checked out. I'm happy for him and guys with ALS.

"But it's not about the money. Money is not a fair exchange for your life or mental health. When we have our brains donated to science, we're all going to have that black CTE spot on our brain. But you'd like to know why some people are affected more than others."

The settlement's research component is essential. Still, the absence of more information about what the NFL knew about head injuries and risks represents a glaring void.

Christopher Seeger, co-lead counsel for the retired players, contended Thursday that exposing the NFL wasn't the goal. He maintained medical benefits and research were the primary goals, along with compensating ex-players and their families.

But if I'm the NFL, keeping a lid on the league's files was a major goal.

Mission accomplished.

Surely, head injuries pose the biggest threat to the NFL, not only for liability, but also for the viability to play football -- on any level.

With ever-increasing awareness about the long-term risks, perhaps the sport has been saved. Undoubtedly, football's landscape has changed for the better.

And that's a good thing, at whatever price.

August 30, 2013

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