The National Football League (NFL) and 4,500 retired players agreed to settle a pending lawsuit of allegations against the NFL this past August. The allegation stated the NFL did not properly warn former players of the dangers of concussions despite prior knowledge of those dangers. It also said that they did not do all they could to help those men whose lives had been negatively affected by those injuries. The NFL will pay out $765 million for injury settlements, medical benefits for retired players and to fund medical and safety research.
However, the NFL purports no admission of liability. With the payout, $675 million disbursed to each ex-player or family is approximately $170,000 per person. Seemingly a fair amount actually adds up to a drop in the bucket for possible medical expenses. Take for example former freestyle skier Sarah Burke who experienced a tragic accident while skiing in 2012 and was hospitalized for her traumatic brain injury (TBI). She was only in the hospital for nine days before she unfortunately succumbed to her TBI. That ninth day, visits racked up to be half a million dollars in medical expenses. If Burke would have lived, imagine the cost of her recovery and therapy.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the lifetime costs for one person surviving a severe TBI can reach $4 million. Not only is the settlement disparagingly low, I cannot say this better than former NFL player, Aaron Cury, who tweeted, “Settlement on concussions not gonna make up for early death, forgetting kids name and rest of stuff that come w/ brain trauma”.
TBI became significant in the media when several retired NFL players began committing suicide and everyone was asking why. The answer? Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease of the brain caused by TBI, if not terminal, contributes to a poor quality of life with severe memory and cognitive troubles such as dementia, Alzheimer’s and cruel depression that may manifest in suicide. Suicide victims’ autopsies have begun to reveal convincing evidence of CTE in their brains.
True, contact is part of the game and concussions may result from it, but the NFL, since 2000, has refused to be responsible for its athletes. The American Academy of Neurology established guidelines for concussed athletes returning to play which the NFL rejected. Then again, in 2005, Rheumatologist Elliot Pellman, chair of the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury committee that was established by the NFL, reported that, “Return to play does not involve a significant risk of a second injury either in the same game or during the season”.
It wasn’t until 2007 when the NFL began to take caution to concussion, but did so passively, merely requiring a baseline neurological test and in 2009 hanging posters in the locker rooms. Meaningful change did not begin until 2010 with the implementation of limiting practice with full pads and hitting, warning players with fines for playing unreasonably, putting others in jeopardy and hiring a neutral doctor to be present so they were not biased in putting the player back into play.
The NFL got away from this lawsuit with no more than a smack on the hand because I believe the league did fail to regulate football in a manner that would prevent TBIs with the scientific information available and is unjustly not held accountable for such and the former players and families receive, essentially, a worthless payout.