The National Football League, unquestioned behemoth among American pro sports collectives, does nothing without considering the financial effects. And this is not mutually exclusive from doing something like the right thing.
That’s what the NFL did in agreeing to pay more than $765 million to settle lawsuits from thousands of former players who developed dementia or other concussion-related brain disorders.
One could argue that a $9 billion annual industry could have afforded more; others say these former players knew the game’s risks and took them anyway. And before we go too mushy on NFL altruism, let’s be clear that the league did not want these lawsuits chipping away at publicity with a new season about to kick off.
No number would have satisfied everyone, boosters and critics alike. But beyond the bottom line, the NFL, without admitting wrongdoing, did make the more important statement of settling with all 18,000 former players, with the vast majority of the cash going to compensate athletes with certain neurological ailments. It also set aside $75 million for medical exams and $10 million for research.
Individual payments would be capped at $5 million for those with Alzheimer’s disease; $4 million for those diagnosed after death with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain condition; and $3 million for former players with dementia. Tony Dorsett, one of the greatest Dallas Cowboys, was among the named plaintiffs.
And, important, the NFL’s settlement money will go to the former players, not attorneys litigating what could have been a long and drawn-out court fight. “There wasn’t a ‘who’s right’ or ‘who’s wrong’ here,” said Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who was involved in some of the settlement talks. “It’s just that the money will go to the ones that need that.”
Say what you will about Jones — and around here, who doesn’t? — but he obviously appreciates the history of his franchise and the league.
He knows, as we all should, that the NFL rose to phenomenal popularity — and profit — through the hard-hitting efforts of these retired players, who did their jobs when we all understood far less about head injuries and their long-term effects. Many of these players have passed away, but of those still alive, too many struggle with residual injuries from their days in uniform. They gave much of themselves, usually in those years when their paychecks were a far cry from what today’s pro athlete might bring home.
It’s jarring and sad to see some of these former stars on NFL Films video from the playing days of their youth, compared with their physical struggles today. It wasn’t right, it wasn’t just and it wasn’t tolerable.
An admission of NFL liability, to these players, isn’t the point. What’s important is that the league is finally putting some of its bounty of today into a place it can do the most good.
Dallas Morning News