Good for U.S. District Judge Anita Brody and her cautious approach to the National Football League’s settlement with former players over the costs of treating the effects of serious head injuries.
Brody could have rubber-stamped a $765 million settlement without much criticism. After all, the league and the 4,500 retired players who sued have agreed to the terms.
But Brody denied preliminary approval of the settlement this week, saying she wants more proof that there is enough money to treat the complex brain injuries afflicting a growing number of former players. As The New York Times reported, she wonders whether the $765 million will cover the costs for 18,000 football retirees over the 65-year life of the agreement.
She is also mindful that the settlement represents a precedent of sorts as other leagues — most notably the National Hockey League and the National Collegiate Athletic Association — are certain to face similar legal disputes.
She wants the league and the players’ lawyers to provide the actuarial evidence used to calculate the settlement — a move that makes perfect sense.
Many of the former players who sued are suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s or depression they blame on concussions received during their playing days. They accuse the league of concealing the risks and rushing players with head injuries back onto the field.
Under the settlement terms being reviewed, individual payouts would depend on the age of the player and the affliction. Younger retirees with Lou Gehrig’s disease might be eligible for the maximum $5 million payment, while retirees in their 80s with early dementia might get $25,000. The settlement will include all players who have retired when the settlement is given preliminary approval by the court. It absolves the NFL of responsibility for the injuries.
The NFL and team owners have made billions off the players, and the companies that sell their products during the games have benefited as well.
During the games this weekend to decide who plays in the Super Bowl, it’s almost a certainty that two players will collide helmet-to-helmet, leaving one on the turf. The network will cut away to commercials, a substitute will take the player’s place, and the game will resume.
This has become an accepted part of what has become America’s most popular sport.
The argument can be made that the players choose to take the risks and are paid handsomely for the privilege. But the detrimental effects of the repetitive hits to the head are only now being understood. And players in the league more than a generation ago were not as well paid and were unaware of the potential for permanent brain injuries.
To its credit, the league is making changes that better protect the players. And $10 million is being set aside as part of the settlement for concussion research and education.
The league owes everything to the players who entertained us over the years. Judge Brody is right to ensure the money — and enough of it — will be there when they need it.