Note: This post was originally published February 2016. Beneath the original post we have provided updated information on this topic.
By now you’ve probably heard about the controversy surrounding football and brain trauma. Specifically, you may have heard of the disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. CTE is the focus of the recent Will Smith movie Concussion, and has been making headlines in the news. Also in the news lately has been the NFL concussion lawsuit settlement. A settlement fund has already been created that could award eligible retired NFL players up to $5 million each for injuries they sustained due to repetitive concussions while playing football in the NFL. One of the firms representing past NFL players has set up the website fortheplayers.com.
Back in November of 2015, many former players had rejected a settlement from the NFL regarding brain injuries because it did not include future payments for CTE. The U.S. District Judge had gotten the parties to approve in mediation a settlement in April of 2015 which also had the NFL remove a $765 million cap so the fund didn’t run out. This year a three-panel judge is to rule on the objections made to that settlement. These appeals must be heard before any payments to former NFL players can move forward.
Since the discovery of CTE, the NFL has made strides when it comes to its concussion protocol. However, that doesn’t change the fact of what many former players are now facing. The NY Times just wrote a recent piece on Ken Stabler, a former NFL star whose last years of life were affected by CTE. Stabler, who passed away last July from colon cancer, donated his brain to science. It was discovered after his death that he had Stage 3 CTE. Stabler is the seventh former NFL quarterback to have had CTE. Boston University has found CTE in 90 of the 94 former NFL players it has examined. Noted in the article is the fact that the NFL for years refuted research by independent experts that connected brain trauma to long-term cognitive impairment. However, times are changing as the NFL is recognizing how head trauma is affecting the brain.
An interesting piece from the NY Times also highlights how teaching football players to play the sport without helmets may reduce the risk of concussions. It’s worth the read. Additionally, a piece from the Wall Street Journal discusses the possibility of new technology ranging from helmets to collars effecting blood flow to reduce the risk. It’s fascinating to see how new ways may improve the associated risks of football. Until then, it’s important to remember how former players were not aware of all the risks associated with the sport and that they be compensated for that.
If these stories interest you, you may want to check out these other news pieces on the subject:
Update January 2017
As you may remember from our blog post earlier this year, we talked about a settlement that was being reviewed between the NFL and a class of retired players. A portion of those players were unsatisfied with the initial settlement, which would provide an uncapped amount of compensation for treatment for the next 65 years. The unhappy group of players, as well as their attorneys, asked for the U.S. Supreme Court to review the settlement for possible changes.
At a glance, a bottomless amount of damages being paid to former players for 65 years seems like an appropriate settlement. The issue for some of these former players was the fact that CTE would essentially be excluded from the list of conditions for which a player could receive compensation. CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is a condition in the brain caused by repetitive collisions to the head. One of the real unfortunate realities of this condition is that it cannot be confirmed as an official diagnosis until an autopsy is performed. The argument of the 30 or so players, who did not sign off on the initial settlement, is that although science may not allow us to detect CTE before death today, that may not be the case in the future. Many former players, who have passed away, have donated their brains to scientific research, in hopes that detection and treatment will one day be available to their NFL brethren.
On Monday, December 12, 2016 the high court decided they would not review the appeal over the settlement, meaning the conditions of the settlement will stand. This decision came without explanation and was of great importance to the remainder of the former players who had signed off on the original deal. The 20,000 former players have had to wait for compensation from the settlement until this appeal situation had been dealt with. Starting in January 2017, the NFL must start making monthly deposits of $20 million into an account for the plaintiffs being compensated through this settlement.
The settlement will cover any player who needs treatment for the specified health complication for the next 65 years. It is estimated that each player in the lawsuit will receive somewhere around $5 million. Although the grand total of this settlement does not have a ceiling, it is estimated it will end up costing the NFL around $1 billion.