Judge to weigh fairness of NFL concussion deal at hearing in Philadelphia; critics to speak
The NFL's potential $1 billion plan to compensate retired players for brain trauma could soon close the chapter on a troubled era of league concussion management.
However, critics lined up to speak Wednesday at a court hearing in Philadelphia believe the NFL is getting off lightly, especially given league revenues topping $10 billion a year.
"The NFL unquestionably can afford to pay more for the harm it has caused," lawyer Steven Molo wrote recently in an objection filed by seven former players.
The NFL expects about 6,000 former players, or 28 percent, to develop Alzheimer's disease or moderate dementia. Their awards could reach $3 million, but they likely would average $190,000, given reductions for advanced age and years in the league.
"What matters now is time, and many retired players do not have much left," former Philadelphia Eagle Kevin Turner said in a statement Tuesday urging the plan's passage.
Turner, at 45, is battling Lou Gehrig's disease and can't make the hearing.
The settlement would resolve thousands of lawsuits that accuse the NFL of hiding known concussion risks to rush players back on to the field.
Senior U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody rejected the initial $765 million plan over concerns it wouldn't last 65 years as promised. The revised plan removes the cap, so the NFL would kick in more money if the fund runs out.
With inflation, and the proposed $112 million for lawyer fees, the NFL could pay out $1 billion or more.
"We expect people to get sick that aren't sick today, and this fund will be there for them," co-lead counsel Christopher Seeger said last month. "The guys I was concerned about were the guys sitting in wheelchairs, or hospitals, or who are homeless."
One chief concern, though, is that the plan leaves out future payments for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which some consider the signature disease of football. The estates of players who died and were diagnosed with CTE from 2006 to 2014 can seek up to $4 million.
The families of former NFL stars Junior Seau and Dave Duerson — both of whom had CTE and committed suicide — both fault the award scheme.
Others complain their awards would be slashed 20 to 80 percent based on their ages, years in the league or other medical conditions.
Still others point out that behavioral problems some researchers link to CTE, including mood swings and erratic behavior, are not covered.
The settlement, if approved, would mean the NFL may never have to disclose what it knew.
"It will take a whistleblower at some point to give us those details. ... But it's going to be a long time coming," said NFL widow Eleanor Perfetto of Annapolis, Maryland, who hopes to speak Wednesday.
Her husband, Ralph Wenzel, suffered from dementia for more than a decade before he died in 2012. Tests showed he had both CTE and Alzheimer's disease.
"An earlier diagnosis was prevented thanks to the NFL's actions — exactly the actions the plaintiffs are suing for," Perfetto wrote to the judge.