The NFL and a group of former players have arrived at a $765 million settlement in the concussion lawsuit brought against the league.
The league finds itself on the hook for the three-quarter of a billion dollar pay out on the basis that the NFL intentionally, and to its own financial benefit, ignored decades of evidence and research about the long-term dangers of concussions to the health of former players.
The NFL made an enormous about-face back in 2009 when Greg Aiello, the league spokesman, noted that it’s “obvious” that concussions can lead to long-term health problems. Following this admission, there was an avalanche of lawsuits filed by former players dating all the way back to the 1940s.
In 2010, the league put up posters in the locker rooms warning of the dangers of concussions and began to level penalties and fines for tackles targeting the head. However, to appreciate just how absurd Aiello’s “obvious” comment was, and how self-serving (and not to mention long overdue) the new rules on dangerous hits were, the larger history of the situation must be considered.
According to a timeline provided by Deadspin, way back in 1954, the New England Journal of Medicine clearly stated that a player who suffers three concussions should just stop playing. Fast forward to 1991, and the NCAA and high schools adopt a guideline, set forth by the Colorado Medical Society, for grading concussions and dictating when a player could return to a game.
It was not until 1994, though, that the NFL finally acknowledged that concussions could be dangerous. The league set up the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee (MTBI), which was headed up by Dr. Elliot Pellman, who was also the team doctor for the New York Jets and the personal physician of then commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
In 2000, the American Academy of Neurology found that 61 percent of former-NFL players had sustained concussions, and troublingly, 16 percent couldn’t dress themselves and 11 percent couldn’t feed themselves.
Deadspin also reported that Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, pressured Troy Aikman to play through his concussions. The logic was that there was no evidence that the effects were “lasting.” That, of course, proved false and Aikman’s career was cut short due to head traumas.
In 2007, the co-chair of the league’s MTBI told HBO Real Sports that there was no connection between concussions and any “long-term problems.” Two years later, though, via Aiello, the league would finally admit that yes, concussions are very bad, and over time the problems only get worse.
Of the $765 million settlement, about $675 million will actually be going to the former players. The $150,000 or so minus attorney fees that each player will receive will certainly help. Considering that ESPN pays $1.9 billion a year for Monday Night Football rights, though, and the NFL itself banks about $10 billion in revenue each season, it seems like the league and Goodell got a pretty good deal.