In the wake of Junior Seau's May 2012 suicide and as the concussion-related lawsuit against the NFL by numerous retired players continued to gain steam, I interviewed Merrillville attorney Bob Parker, a civil litigator for 35 years. I thought he would bring a unique perspective to the issues involved because, over the same time period, he had become one of the most respected high school football officials in the state of Indiana.
In my May 5, 2012 column, I wrote, “Parker believes all that is being alleged will be very tough to prove in a courtroom. In fact, he is doubtful any of the suits will ever get in one, at least with a jury present.
"'There is likely to be some sort of settlement,' he said. 'It would be devastating to the NFL to have this aired over months in a courtroom. Expect a fund for injured players and the NFL to make rule changes as a part of the settlement.'"
And Parker was exactly right. The only reason rule changes weren't part of the settlement was because those anticipated by Parker have already been made.
The NFL will pay out $765M (half over the next three years and the remainder over the following 17): $10M for research, $75M for diagnostic testing, $5M for miscellaneous expenses, and $675M to compensate retirees and their families for neurologic injury.
That may seem like a substantial sum. If only the 4,500 plaintiffs were to share in the funds, that would translate to an average of $150,000 per retiree. However, any NFL retiree – roughly 16,000 individuals – is eligible to apply for the funds, which would decrease the average payout to $45,000.
Depending on one's diagnosis, though, a “victim” could receive much, much more. Those with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, will receive $5M, as will those with Alzheimer's Disease and/or Parkinson's Disease.
Oddly, the families of those who have died from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (once known as Punch Drunk Syndrome or Dementia Pugilistica) will be eligible for only $4M. Until now, I didn't realize CTE was preferable to Alzheimer's.
Finally, those found to have non-specific dementia will receive a payout of $3M.
If as few as 200 retirees receive a combination of the above-listed diagnoses, the fund will be used up pretty quickly. If it is exhausted before the 20 years are up, the NFL has agreed to add another $37.5 million to the “pot.” Then, that's it. The NFL is done. No admission of liability. No more lawsuit dominating the headlines.
Consider the NFL's current annual income is $10B per year and is expected to be $25B per year by the time the agreement is completed. Consider further that the average annual cost per team for this settlement will be $1.2M. Then you can surely surmise that in league and franchise executive suites, the suits are doing an end zone victory dance. Spiking the nearest souvenir game ball, too.
Ex-players, on the other hand, are able to opt out and choose to move forward with individual lawsuits. Perhaps a few will do so. But don't expect those who are already afflicted with ALS, Parkinson's, or Alzheimer's to take such a chance. They are in need of immediate financial assistance and this agreement provides that.
Continued legal action only promises a process which will take years with no guaranteed outcome.
Still, this civil action is not entirely concluded. The presiding federal judge in Philadelphia must give final approval. Furthermore, helmet-maker Riddell, a co-defendant with the NFL until now, is not a party to the settlement. Consequently, that part of the suit goes on.
John Doherty is a certified athletic trainer and licensed physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT.