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Attorney David Frederick, center, speaks during a news conference, Tuesday, April 9, 2013, in Philadelphia, after a hearing to determine whether the NFL faces years of litigation over concussion-related brain injuries. Listening, from left Eleanor Perfetto, the widow of former NFL player Ralph Wenzel; Lisa McHale, the widow of former NFL player Tom McHale; former NFL player Kevin Turner, Frederick, Mary Ann Easterling, the widow of former NFL player Ray Easterling, and former NFL players Dorsey Levens, and Bill Bergey. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
NFL, players agree to settle concussion lawsuits
NFL » Resolution between league and 4,500 former players includes $765 million settlement.
First Published Aug 29 2013 10:48 am • Last Updated Feb 14 2014 11:33 pm

Philadelphia • The NFL agreed to pay more than three-quarters of a billion dollars to settle lawsuits from thousands of former players who developed dementia or other concussion-related health problems they say were caused by the very on-field violence that fueled the game’s rise to popularity and profit.

The settlement, unprecedented in sports, was announced Thursday after two months of court-ordered mediation and is subject to approval by a federal judge. It came exactly a week before the first game of the 2013 season, removing a major legal and financial threat hanging over the sport for two years.

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U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody in Philadelphia is expected to rule on the settlement in two to three months but said it "holds the prospect of avoiding lengthy, expensive and uncertain litigation, and of enhancing the game of football."

More than 4,500 former players, some of them suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or depression, accused the NFL of concealing the long-term dangers of concussions and rushing injured players back onto the field, while glorifying and profiting from the bone-crushing hits that were often glorified in slow motion on NFL Films.

"Football has been my life and football has been kind to me," said former Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett, one of at least 10 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who filed suit since 2011. "But when I signed up for this, I didn’t know some of the repercussions. I did know I could get injured, but I didn’t know about my head or the trauma or the things that could happen to me later on in life."

The settlement applies to all past NFL players and spouses of those who are deceased — a group that could total more than 20,000 — and will cost the league $765 million, the vast majority of which would go to compensate retirees with certain neurological ailments, plus plaintiffs’ attorney fees, which could top $100 million. It sets aside $75 million for medical exams and $10 million for medical research.

Individual payouts would be capped at $5 million for men with Alzheimer’s disease; $4 million for those diagnosed after their deaths with a brain condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy; and $3 million for players with dementia, said lead plaintiffs’ lawyer Christopher Seeger.

"We got what we wanted, let’s put it that way," said Seeger, who noted that settlement discussions began more than a year ago.

The settlement does not include an admission from the NFL that it hid information from players about head injuries. Commissioner Roger Goodell told pro football’s lawyers to "do the right thing for the game and the men who played it," according to a statement by the league.

Goodell was not made available for comment.


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The NFL takes in revenues of more than $9 billion a year, a figure that will rise when new TV contracts start in 2014.

In addition to Dorsett, the plaintiffs include Super Bowl-winning quarterback Jim McMahon, who suffers from dementia; former running back Kevin Turner, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease; and the family of All-Pro selection Junior Seau, who committed suicide last year.

Turner, who played for the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles, predicted that most of his peers would support the settlement.

"Chances are ... I won’t make it to 50 or 60," said Turner, now 44. "I have money now to put back for my children to go to college and for a little something to be there financially."

All former NFL players are eligible to seek care, screening or compensation, whether they suffered a documented concussion or not. The amounts they receive will be based on their age, condition and years of play. They do not need to prove that their health problems are connected to playing football.

Players’ lawyers said they expect the fund to cover the ex-athletes’ expenses up to age 65. Current players are not covered and, therefore, theoretically could bring their own lawsuits at some point.

"All of those ‘experts’ said this would be a 10-year process, but I personally believe both sides did whatever they had to, to help retired players — and at the same time, to not change the game of football as we know it," said Craig Mitnick, one of the players’ lawyers.

If the settlement holds, the NFL won’t have to disclose internal files that might reveal what it knew, and when, about concussion-linked brain problems.

"I think it’s more important that the players have finality, that they’re vindicated, and that as soon as the court approves the settlement they can begin to get screening, and those that are injured can get their compensation. I think that’s more important than looking at some documents," said lawyer Sol Weiss of Philadelphia, who filed the first lawsuit on behalf of former Atlanta Falcon Ray Easterling and a few others. Easterling later committed suicide.

Sports law experts had thought the lawsuits might cost the league $1 billion or more if they went to trial. The NFL had pushed for the claims to be heard in arbitration under terms of the players’ labor contract.

The league had also argued that individual teams bear the chief responsibility for health and safety under the collective bargaining agreement, along with the players’ union and the players themselves.

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