“This is a historic agreement, one that will make sure that former NFL players who need and deserve compensation will receive it and that will promote safety for players at all levels of football,” said Layne Phillips, the court-appointed mediator and a former U.S. District judge.
The proposed settlement, which must be approved by District Court Judge Anita B. Brody, is a surprisingly quick resolution to a case that involves former players and their families, who charged that the NFL concealed the long-term dangers of repeated hits to the head and the resulting concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The league countered that it had issued warnings based on available medical research and that player safety is governed by the collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association.
Under terms of the proposed settlement, the NFL does not admit to any liability or concede that injuries suffered by the plaintiffs were caused by football. Roughly half of the settlement will be paid out over the first three years, with the balance spread over the following 17.
“I believe we got everything we could possibly get out of the NFL in this litigation,” lead plaintiffs’ attorney Christopher Seeger said.
Still, much of the initial reaction in the both the sports and legal worlds centered on the terms and whether the plaintiffs were able to squeeze enough out of a league that generates more than $9 billion in annual revenues. An attorney for NFL insurer Alterra America told the New York State Supreme Court earlier this year that the litigation could have ultimately cost the league more than $2.5 billion.
“Some people I’m sure will say this is petty change, peanuts,” said Arthur Miller, a law professor at New York University. “Some people will say this was a $2 billion case. And maybe it was. But the risks of litigating these kinds of highly complex cases with issues like causation, the burdens of proof and the amount of time litigation would have taken — there are many people in this group who can’t wait five or eight more years.”
While the string of lawsuits included more than 4,500 former players — ranging from Pro Football Hall of Famers to fringe players who barely set foot on the field — the proposed settlement would actually encompass all NFL retirees, which number approximately 16,000.
“Commissioner [Roger] Goodell and every owner gave the legal team the same direction: Do the right thing for the game and for the men who played it,” said Jeff Pash, the NFL’s executive vice president. “We thought it was critical to get more help to players and families who deserve it rather than spend many years and millions of dollars on litigation.”