by Angie Matarozzi
The NFL truly stands for Not For Long. Bone crushing hits, concussions and career-ending injuries are commonplace in the National Football League. Sure, players in the NBA suffer ACL tears and side-lining injuries all the time (no one will be quick to forget the gruesome Kevin Ware incident this past March), and it’s always scary to see a baseball player get hit with a pitch. However, there is nothing quite like the perpetual risk of serious brain injury that plagues NFL players on a daily basis.
Dementia, cognitive impairment, Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s are life-threatening medical traumas countless retired NFL players endure once they leave the league. Or, rather, escape the league.
Player safety is scarce within the National Football League. Imagine showing up to work every day with the possibility of sustaining a serious brain injury that could drastically reduce your life expectancy. We’ve all seen it on TV before: when a guy takes an especially hard hit you cringe and pray he gets back up. To put it quite simply, the NFL isn’t doing enough to safeguard their employee’s lives.
Understandably, it’s a tricky problem to solve. Extending the rules of protection dilutes the excitement of the sport and will definitely discourage fandom and spectatorship. Football is the biggest powerhouse league within professional sports today. But how long can the NFL go on with thousands of retired players issuing lawsuits against their former employer?
The long-term future of the NFL is uncertain, but the issue was temporarily put rest this past Thursday. The National Football League has agreed to pay out a settlement of $765 million (plus legal fees) to over 4,500 former players who have filed lawsuits against them. These retirees, who are suffering debilitating neurological conditions, sued the league on the grounds that the NFL did not effectively communicate the serious risks of brain injury.
The case is currently pending judicial approval, but assuming that all goes according to plan, players and their families will begin to receive financial compensation for their injuries that were assumedly sustained while playing in the NFL.
But can you put a price on the suffering and pain that ex-players and their families have had to endure?
Many people believe that the settlement is a victory for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. By paying out the players, the league is able to quickly put a bandage on the problem before further investigation can taint the league’s already tarnished reputation. If litigation continued, the NFL may have faced a much larger injury settlement as well as negative press circulating within sports media.
Furthermore, internal documents may have been dragged up, and new and damaging evidence could have emerged against the NFL. So all in all, Goodell and his associates breathed a sigh of relief when agreeing to hand over this sizable chunk of change.
In actuality, the settlement money is just pocket change to the NFL, which made close to $10 billion last year alone. The New York Times noted that the settlement was comparable to the value of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who sold for about $760 million in 2011. It’s not as if the league can’t afford it, and they are able to dispense the money over a 20-year period.
If you ask me, the settlement lacks sincerity. It’s not enough. The NFL simply sought to absolve itself throughout the trial. This became evident after ESPN released the NFL settlement notes which state:
“The settlement does not represent, and cannot be considered, an admission by the NFL of liability, or an admission that plaintiffs’ injuries were caused by football. Nor is it an acknowledgement by the plaintiffs of any deficiency in their case. Instead, it represents a decision by both sides to compromise their claims and defenses, and to devote their resources to benefit retired players and their families, rather than litigate these cases. ”
But doesn’t agreeing to the settlement prove the exact opposite—that the NFL did indeed have a hand in shortening these players’ lives? Of course, this can’t all be pinned on the National Football Association.
Players know what they are getting themselves into and the potential risks involved. However, the league needs to be proactive in limiting life-threatening concussions.The NFL technically avoided admitting culpability for their former player’s injuries while sweeping the situation under the rug. It is clear that the league is worried about receiving bad press associated with concussions and brain damage.
Recently, Goodell met with ESPN executives to discourage their partnership with PBS in producing a documentary called “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis.”
Guilt money or not, the settlement will indeed aid retired NFL players and their families who are seeking alleviation for their medical bills. The money will fund baseline medical exams as well as brain trauma research and education.
The timing of the settlement is fortunate for the NFL—it coincides with the beginning of the season, when fans and national media will soon be distracted by play.
So, it seems that the settlement was mutually beneficial for both sides: the NFL was able to sidestep a potential blowout scandal and ex-players received their rightful compensation. Although a successful conclusion was reached, this concussion litigation does nothing to eradicate the issue at hand.
What about current and future NFL players? How will they be protected? Will they receive a nice fat check only after their brains have been addled and they can’t even remember their own names? What is the future of the NFL in terms of promoting player safety?
Future lawsuits are sure to come and players will continue to suffer near-fatal blows to the head.
The issue has been put to rest, yet probably not for long.