As a young athlete, whether it’s a freshman in high school or college or a first-round draft pick going into the National Football League, would you be willing to sign a document stating that you understand that football is a violent game, with side effects including an increased susceptibility to Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease, dementia, suicide, early death, memory loss, and other debilitating health effects? These risks seem unreasonable, but that’s the question athletes must ask themselves if they want the glory of being a football star.
Last week, the N.F.L. announced that it had agreed to pay $765 million to settle a lawsuit brought by more than 4,500 players and their families who accused the N.F.L of concealing the dangers of concussions and repeated hits to the head.
So far, the settlement is largely seen as a victory for the N.F.L., according to most media outlets, as it didn’t have to admit to any wrongdoing and keeps the league out of any discovery phase of a trial that would certainly be bad PR for the sport.
At $765 million, according to The New York Times, the settlement has about the same value as the Jacksonville Jaguars organization, which was sold for $760 million a couple of years ago. With a growing annual revenue, which came in last year at about $10 billion, the $765 million settlement comes at a fairly cheap price, all things considered.
According to the report, $675 million of the $765 million will go toward the players or their families. Approximately $75 million will go toward medical testing, and $10 million will go toward research.
While we all know that the N.F.L. could have afforded a much, much larger settlement price tag, the price is being seen as a victory for the 4,500 players and family members involved in the lawsuit, as well. Simply put, many of those players retired players who are now experiencing health issues related to head injuries, are in need of treatment right now. They don’t need it in five years or ten years; they need treatment now. So settling helps to alleviate some of their financial pain as they go through the medical system.
The retired players and family members in the lawsuit will be paid according to their age and number of years they played in the N.F.L., from a formula calculating the approximate number of hits to the head during the player’s tenure. Those who are diagnosed with serious neurological disorders like A.L.S. or Alzheimer’s will be eligible to receive up to $5 million each. The families of former players who committed suicide and were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.) are eligible to receive up to $4 million under the settlement.
“The big picture was we got immediate care to the retired players, and I think we accomplished that,” Christopher Seeger, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told The Times.
Others weren’t so supportive of the settlement.
“Settlement on concussions not gonna make up for early death, forgetting kids name and rest of stuff that come w/ brain trauma,” former N.F.L. player Aaron Curry, who was not part of the suit, tweeted after the settlement announcement.
What will be debated for years is whether the N.F.L. won or lost in the settlement, whether retired players and their families got the settlement they deserved and – the big-picture question – where does the N.F.L. go from here to make the game safer? Can the game ever be safe enough to save players from life-altering concussions? As the former New Orleans Saint Scott Fujita points out in an essay published by The Times, had the N.F.L been forced to disclose what it knows about concussions in a trial, concussion management would have been forced to move forward and improve. Now, with a settlement agreed upon, it leaves us all wondering just how badly concussions really do affect us, how much they alter all of our lives. I think we all want to know how bad concussions really are, and for now, thanks to the settlement, we still won’t find out what the N.F.L. really knew.
Not that the league should be the expert here. Research is moving forward on the effects of repeated brain trauma, and soon, we’ll know more. But the question is, to what end? Could there be a time when doctors and scientists simply say that football, the way it is played today, is simply too dangerous to players’ health and well-being, and that it should no longer be played. Can the game survive is proven to kill its players, over a long period of time?
Simply put, there is too much of a demand for football for it to end, just because of its adverse effects on players. Americans love football. I am hopelessly addicted to football – is it wrong to love something so much that exacts the ultimate price, from other human beings? I would say so. But what about the athletes who, despite knowing the risk, go ahead and play anyway. So long as there is a top-dollar demand and off-the-charts popularity, there will be always be a corps of athletes willing to risk their lives for the money and the glory.
In reality, football will live on despite what it does to its players’ health, and soon, players will sign a waiver acknowledging that they know football has wrecked some players’ lives, in a variety of ways. The violence associated with football can kill. Will athletes still sign the waiver? The answer is yes. Does it mean that it’s right? No.
I guess that’s just the way it is, and way it will always be, so long as there is an unwavering demand for gridiron action.