PHILADELPHIA — The NFL has reached a tentative $765 million settlement over concussion-related brain injuries among its 18,000 retired players, agreeing to compensate victims, pay for medical exams and underwrite research.
A federal judge announced the agreement Thursday after months of court-ordered mediation. It came just days before the start of the 2013 season.
The NFL long has denied any wrongdoing and insisted that safety always has been a top priority. But the NFL said Thursday that Commissioner Roger Goodell told pro football’s lawyers to “do the right thing for the game and the men who played it.”More than 4,500 former athletes — some suffering from dementia, depression or Alzheimer’s that they blamed on blows to the head — had sued the league, accusing it of concealing the dangers of concussions and rushing injured players back onto the field while glorifying and profiting from the kind of bone-jarring hits that make for spectacular highlight-reel footage.
The plaintiffs included Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett, Super Bowl-winning quarterback Jim McMahon and the family of Pro Bowl linebacker Junior Seau, who committed suicide last year.
Under the settlement, individual awards would be capped at $5 million for men with Alzheimer’s disease; $4 million for those diagnosed after their deaths with a brain condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy; and $3 million for players with dementia, said lead plaintiffs’ lawyer Christopher Seeger.
Any of the approximately 18,000 former NFL players would be eligible.
Senior U.S. District Judge Anita Brody in Philadelphia announced the proposed agreement and will consider approving it at a later date.
The settlement most likely means the NFL won’t have to disclose internal files about what it knew, and when, about concussion-linked brain problems. Lawyers had been eager to learn, for instance, about the workings of the league’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee, which was led for more than a decade by a rheumatologist.
In recent years, a string of former NFL players and other concussed athletes have been diagnosed after their deaths with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Those ex-players included Seau and lead plaintiff Ray Easterling, who filed the first lawsuit in Philadelphia in August 2011 but later committed suicide.
About one-third of the league’s 12,000 former players eventually joined the litigation. They include a few hundred “gap” players, who played during years when there was no labor contract in place, and were therefore considered likely to win the right to sue.