The NFL’s paltry concussion settlement

Sleight-of-hand sports

For the NFL walking dead, checking in with multiple brain injuries, a million bucks is only the beginning.
  • For the NFL walking dead, checking in with multiple brain injuries, a million bucks is only the beginning.

College football is here, and all the barnacles that hang from that cash cow’s underbelly are feeding. Let’s take a look at the football newspaper of record, USA Today.

Friday’s edition featured six sportswriters picking week 1 winners. Follows are their first three nominees.

Alabama vs. Virginia Tech. Lookie here, all six pros pick Alabama to win. Hmm, the Vegas line has Alabama as 21-point favorites. Perhaps picking Alabama is not an impossibly difficult choice?

How about Ohio State vs. Buffalo? Hey, once again, all six USA Today sportswriters pick the same team, Ohio State. What does Vegas say? Ohio State is a 34-point favorite. Perhaps picking Ohio State is something my dog could do?

Finally, Oregon vs. Nicholls State. You guessed it, everyone picked Oregon. Funny, Oregon is favored by 59 points.

Only because you want it, let’s find out how our panel did. By golly, Alabama, Ohio State, and Oregon won! Oh, magical prophesies come true!

In that same spirit the Box will offer a pick. General Electric will take in more revenue this quarter than the El Cajon franchise of In-N-Out Burger. Bet on it!

In harmony with the above are NFL contracts. One reads, “...signed a seven-year deal for $130 million.” Actually, the player can only count on money for the season he’s playing and his signing bonus. Everything else is IF. But, it’s rarely written that way.

Which brings us to the NFL concussion settlement. Media reports say there’s a $765 million settlement between the NFL and players provided, as expected, U.S. District Judge Anita Brody approves.

This year the NFL is expected to amass $10 billion, making $765 million less than 10 percent of one year’s revenue. But, as in the case of player contracts, those numbers don’t tell the story.

There are 4500 players involved in the lawsuit. A settlement of $765 million works out to $168,000 per player. But, you and I know it’s never that simple. For example, the settlement actually covers 18,000 former NFL players, and different injuries will get different amounts of money, but let’s ignore all that for the moment.

Grantland journalist Bill Barnwell writes, “In actuality, the league is putting aside a paltry $10 million for research and education, $75 million for baseline testing of each player involved with the lawsuit, and then $675 million as compensation for players or family of players who ‘suffered cognitive injuries.’”

Well, $675 million is still a fat check. Works out to $144,000 per player.

Players don’t get the $144,000 in a lump sum. The money is distributed over a 20-year period. Half to be paid out in three years, the other half to be paid out over 17 years. The NFL is making $10 billion in yearly revenue, projected to be $25 billion by 2027. But, let’s suppose the NFL’s revenue stays flat at $10 billion a year, and let’s suppose there is zero inflation for the next two decades. Journalist David Tigabu, commenting on how much money the NFL will take in over the next 20 years, writes, “...the $675 million figure being distributed to the players through this settlement amounts to .34 percent of the NFL’s total projected revenue over this period.” Less than one-half of 1 percent.

In return, the NFL all but shuts down future litigation and admits no guilt. Payouts won’t be divvied up and handed out. There will be categories and conditions, such as the age of the player, how many years in the NFL, diagnosis, and so on. And payouts are capped. Alzheimer’s disease gets up to $5 million. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy up to $4 million. Dementia up to $3 million. That’s top of the line, best case. Most players won’t see anything near that. For players there will be hoops to jump through, evidence to provide, actually getting the money, much less enough money, in one’s hand will, I’m predicting, be as gut-wrenching as it is with any nitpicking, loophole-looking, customer-hating insurance company.

Three years ago I had vascular surgery to clear plaque from my left carotid artery (the big artery running up the side of your neck). It’s not setting a broken arm, but it’s not a heart transplant either. About 150,000 carotid endarterectomies are done ever year. According to Harvard Medical School, for experienced surgeons, bad outcomes are in the range of one to two percent. I had the operation and spent one night in the hospital. In and out within 24 hours. The bill was $103,000. For the NFL walking dead, checking in with multiple, long-term brain injuries, a million bucks is only the beginning.

NFL as beloved institution in one hand, one-half of 1 percent in the other.

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I'm unsure if this is a justified poke at the policies of the National Football League or a justified criticism of the cost of health care. Either way, as much as I would like to muster up a tear for those fallen gladiators, if you take a modest $5 million signing bonus (not to mention what you make in the actual payroll part of the contract plus any endorsements) and invest it properly, you could cover those hospital bills incurred after a copious amount of head-jousting for a few years.

But, to wit, players want to play now and perhaps cry later. Do a piece on hockey, it's a lot more brutal of a sport than American football. Just this last season in the NHL, Bruins center Gregory Campbell finished his shift on a broken leg in the playoffs before finally coming off of the ice. But that's nothing. Bobby Baun did it in the Stanley Cup Finals, not simply finishing a shift, but returning to finish the game, even scoring a goal. I could give examples all evening.

Not to diminish the long-term effects of a concussion, but look at Ice Hockey and you'll see why the NFL was able to reach a settlement. The NFL has the money. The NHL doesn't, and try landing head-first on ice skating fast without concussing every so often. The difference is, the NHL is too poor to find itself on the radar of a lawsuit.

It isn't the brutality of the sport that warrants players griping about suffering lasting medical effects for entertaining us while earning big money to do so, it's some sort of focus on which form of sports entertainment can afford to pay out. In other words, if owners of teams in a particular sport drive Toyotas, there's no liability, but when they drive expensive European cars then suddenly there's outrage.

Maybe there's a better angle on this.

Considering current player salaries - $1.9 million as of 2010 ( that sounds reasonable. But this settlement covers players from much leaner times, who may not have had the same resources...

1990 - $356,000 (still probably enough to put aside some cash for insurance later in life) 1985 - $217,000 (perhaps cutting it tight, given an average career of 4-5 years at peak earning potential) 1980 - $79,000 (no way you're set for life after a few years at that pay grade)

And it gets significantly worse from there. This also factors in the big-money contracts of star players, boosting the "average" a lot higher than most players were making at any given point in time.

I think this is certainly a deserved jab at the outrageous cost of medicine in this country as compared to any other nation in the world. But it's just as effective as an object to shame the NFL for a paltry (by any measure) investment in the well-being of its players.

Spot on, David. And for anyone interested in reading some actual facts provided by many of the participants on both sides of the issue, there's this:

Among many glaring oversights and misstatements by the Reader contributor are Daugherty's false assertion that the NFL controls the payouts, a key factor that the players fought for and were victorious in achieving. He also fails to point out that the players were granted access to professional accountants and advisers, overseeing the payouts and seeking ways to insert options that will allow the pool to remain viable for 65 years. But most conspicuous is the omission that the NFL is picking up the attorney's fees, estimated to be at least $200 million. All of which brings the payout to one billion smackeroos, with half of it being paid during the first three years in order to fund the pool. Bottom line, the players are pleased with the deal. Read the article to discover why.

Agree with David Dodd and Duhbya 100 percent. This is a poorly written article with glaring omissions and misstatements. I personally know a former NFL player, someone I went to college with at Arizona and he has told me, in no uncertain terms, that the players are indeed pleased with the deal. His issues are minor now, relatively speaking, but will progress and he is happy knowing he is going to have financial assistance going forward. As he put it to me, this is going to help a lot of guys he knows from the game now, and not 10 yrs from now, if this thing had dragged out thru the courtsas was predicted. There are also 2 other things about this article that stick out to me. First, it takes a week for someone to right it after the settlement was announced and only rates the bottom half in another article and not it's own article? Seriously???!!! And secondly, where's Bauder?? After all his rantings about the NFL since Junior's tragic ending, and as far as I can tell, he has not posted even a single comment on the settlement let alone written a story. What's up with that? I expected to see something by the day after the settlement, at the latest. But a week later and still nothing?? Again, what's up with that?/

Let me see... guys willingly join the NFL to play a tough, physical game, for which they're paid far more than most people will ever make in their lives. Football players of today are, very literally, the 1% Everyone knows that playing football is a great way to get injured, there there are tremendous risks, but the payout is there, and they sign on the dotted line. But now, suddenly, they're "victims" and deserve even more money???

Seems like, for safety's sake, we ought to ban football, not increase the payouts. What about high school and college ball players? Shouldn't they get millions, too? They play the same game, take the same risks.

Enough of the hand-wringing and crocodile tears. This is a money grab... dumb jocks struck it rich, partied, blew all of their money, and now want a free second bite at the apple so they don't have to feel any pain. But what else can we expect in Obama's Giveaway America? People who partied using their houses as ATMs get bailed out. Those who can't hold a job get endless unemployment extensions, then disability checks, and then an array of more free goodies. Nobody is responsible for themselves any more. Why work, save, be responsible? Blow it all, we'll just soak the deep pockets to make you feel better.

I want to puke.

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