Why the Courts Rejected the Latest NFL Concussion Deal

A federal judge in Philadelphia says $765 million isn't enough, especially for those who may have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease
Rhona Wise/Bloomberg Photo

Resist cheap Super Bowl metaphors. No allusions to the Seahawks' inexplicable last-second play calling. Here's what you need to know about the latest twist in the deadly serious matter of NFL concussions.

The players need some new lawyers.

For the second time, U.S. District Judge Anita Brody said in Philadelphia that attorneys for thousands of retired pro football players had delivered a pact with the league that didn't adequately serve the needs of former athletes who have suffered head injuries, some of them fatal. It's not surprising that the NFL is trying to keep costs to a minimum. But why do the plaintiffs' lawyers keep coming up short? Oh, right. They don't get paid until money changes hands. That's why they're impatient, too.

What's Brody's concern?

In a three-page order issued a day after the Patriots squeaked past the Seahawks, the judge—who is trying to resolve claims by some 5,000 former players—worried about objections by dozens of former athletes and their kin who say that the current deal, valued at $765 million, isn't generous enough, especially for those who may have CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease diagnosable only after death. Beyond expanding coverage for CTE, Brody wants lawyers for the league and the players to provide some benefits, even if players lack certain medical records.

Yes, it's deja vu all over again.

Brody rejected an early version of the settlement in January 2014. At that time, she said a compensation fund estimated at $675 million could be inadequate, given the pact's six-and-a-half-decade intended duration. As Bloomberg News noted: "In June, the NFL agreed to lift the cap on cash awards while tightening restrictions for audits of payments and damage award appeals. Medical monitoring and educational programs would bring the total value of the settlement to $765 million." Now it turns out that latter amount isn't enough, either. When administrative costs are factored in, the final bill could easily exceed $900 million, but over such a long period of time, the cash-rich NFL would have no difficulty writing the necessary checks.

What's next?

Brody told lawyers for the league and the players to respond before Feb. 13. That will happen. The NFL can't afford the public relations debacle of taking a case to trial when looming in the background is a collision-related disease that's been tied to the suicides of such beloved stars as Pro Bowl linebacker Junior Seau and Chicago Bears safety David Duerson. The lawsuits that are consolidated before Brody accuse the NFL of negligence and covering up the connection between repeated head-bashing and long-term neurodegenerative diseases. That coverup crumbled several years ago, in part because of the pressure brought by the suits. Now the plaintiffs' lawyers and the NFL have to get to the goal line so the benefit money can start flowing to mentally crippled athletes. First, though, the attorneys have to get past an admirably picky federal judge.

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