As the details emerge in the settlement between the NFL and more than 4,000 former players and their families, it would appear that the amount the league will pay out -- $765 million plus legal fees over the next 20 years -- is a better deal for the players and families than many originally believed. The league was under fire for allegedly hiding its knowledge of the long-term effects of head trauma over a number of years, and it offended the sensibilities of many that the men who played the game and suffered far more than they ever expected received less than 1/10th of the NFL's gross profit in the 2012 season.
But in a Sunday report from ESPN's Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada, it's revealed the plaintiffs had asked for much more and the likelihood that they'd get it was marginal, at best. The players' side wanted just over $2 billion, and as the Fainaru/Fainaru-Wada report indicated, the NFL started from about zero in its discussions.
U.S. District Judge Anita Brody, who must still sign off on the recent agreement, apparently told the two sides that she was ready to agree with the NFL's contention that many who played during the former collective bargaining agreement -- those who played from 1994 through 2010 -- should be excluded. This would have eliminated a huge percentage of the plaintiff pool, and scuttled the class-action aspect of the claim. Brody also said that since the league's concussion committee wasn't formed until 1994, those remaining in the suit would have a tough time proving any fraud allegations.
The NFL was looking at the public relations nightmare of a long legal fight, and a discovery process that may have revealed the full scale of the NFL's frequently shoddy handling of head trauma over the years. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was excoriated by Congress in an Oct. 2009 hearing in which Goodell vaguely tried to reinforce the league's commitment to a safer game, and the questionable longtime standing of Dr. Elliot Pellman as a major player in the NFL's diagnostic process.
In 2003 and 2004, Dr. Pellman published a number of articles in the scholarly journal Neurosurgery, edited by New York Giants neurological consultant Mike Apuzzo, in which it was asserted that NFL players showed no decline in brain function after concussions, and that there was no increased risk after multiple concussions. Pellman, who still works with the league in a limited capacity, was very likely the plaintiffs' smoking gun -- if deposed in trial, his history of supposed obfuscation and league involvement might have rendered the CBA issue invalid.
In the end, the plaintiffs settled for far more than was originally offered, and the league ponied up far more than it may have wanted. Both sides received a major benefit -- the players in desperate need of medical and financial help sooner than later will get it, and the lack of liability on the NFL's side is a huge advantage in any related courtroom fights it may have in the future.