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Nuts & Bolts

September 4, 2013

NFL concussion settlement no victory for safety

The NFL concussion settlement had both sides cheering the outcome of the case. The league will kick in $765 million over the next 20 years and the 4,500 former players who had sued the league will draw from the fund to help pay medical costs linked to serious injuries they sustained while playing pro football.

That might be a win-win for the two parties, but how can any real resolution that doesn’t provide more understanding into the cause or treatment of concussions be declared a victory?

It can’t. The NFL did not acknowledge any wrongdoing even though the players had alleged the league mistreated concussions by hiding the known risks inherent with a violent game. So teams will go on selling tickets and collecting TV fees, and players will take to the field with each knowing the devastating impact of a brutal game but neither doing much about it.

With the pro football empire ready to launch another season of play, it can celebrate the settlement knowing the fever-hot debate over treating players who face medical issues --  matters ranging from severe cognitive impairment, dementia, Alzheimer’s or ALS  -- has been addressed.

One needn’t be much of a cynic, however, to suggest it was a great public relations victory for the NFL.

The players were seeking about $2 billion in damages; the league, with revenues topping $10 billion a year, was originally offering nothing in compensation. They ended up getting about a third of what they sought. Score a major victory for Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL image machine.

But any settlement rings hollow when the source of the problem goes largely ignored. The agreement includes only $10 million for research and education. Maybe the NFL should have kicked in a dozen cases of Band-Aids as another sign of its good-faith gesture.

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