The Pro Football Concussion Report

A Fan's Look at Head Injuries and the Concussion Crisis in Football

Sorry Vince, There is Another Outcome.

Vince Lombardi after 1st Super Bowl Victory, 1967 (AP)


As the shock of the sudden proposed settlement of the NFL concussion litigation wears off (some experts had estimated the process could take 8 years), there’s still quite a bit of misunderstanding  out there. Many pieces in the media are still focused on winning and losing. For instance, the following SFGate headline is not an uncommon one:


“Concussion settlement a win for NFL”


One of the methods that the writer, Bruce Jenkins uses to determine victory is to divide $765 million by 4,500 plaintiffs and get $170,000 for each player. As a result, Jenkins points out that $170,000 is woefully low to properly care for someone with ALS, Parkinson’s, or dementia. Fortunately though, Jenkins “math” is meaningless and the money available for treatment or compensation to severely affected former players will actually be much higher per patient.


First of all, 4,500 players is an irrelevant number. The settlement addresses all former players, not just the 4,500 plaintiffs. The number of former players has been estimated between 12,000 and 20,000. The exact number of players eligible for participation in any or all phases of the agreement can only be estimated after more information is made available about what amount of service qualifies a player for participation.

Secondly, 4,500 former players do not currently have severe cognitive impairment. Only former players who “present medical evidence of severe cognitive impairment, dementia, Alzheimer’s or ALS” are eligible for cash compensation. So that reduces the number of players who are injured severely enough to qualify for any payments to perhaps less than 5% of the former players. Although the risk of dying from a brain disease may be 3 to 4 times higher for a football player than the general public, it is still not a common illness. Subsequently, the amount of money available to severely impaired players will be more appropriate than $170,000 each.

Also, the agreement has several parts that comprise the total benefits package. Possibly overshadowed by the big dollar figure is the only part that will be used by most players. The medical monitoring part of the agreement allows former players to begin free neurological testing that includes a baseline medical assessment that will be used presumably to assess former players’ cognitive functioning and “establish a qualifying diagnosis.” More specifics about the exam and access to follow-up exams will hopefully come out as the complete agreements are made available.

The “win” proposition though is particularly troubling, though within the context of football is completely understandable. One of football’s most memorable quotes is attributed to legendary coach coach Vince Lombardi who of course said,


“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”


Well, it turns out the Lombardi borrowed the line from 1950’s UCLA Coach Red Sanders. There is no Santa Claus – sadly, here’s a 13 page academic paper on the origin of the line.

The NFL didn’t win anything. Sure, they might not face as much embarrassment as they would have had the lawsuit allegations proven true. And yes, the owners and their families still remain wealthy and now the NFL can confidently move onward to 18 game seasons, continued billion dollar partnerships and all other plans toward total world domination. But. This is a big but. But, the last two years of litigation and the publicity from the litigation, the player suicides, the C.T.E. images, the broadcasts of widows and moms sobbing on TV are unforgettable. None of us will ever watch the game again the same. We’ll never scream “good hit” with the same zeal that we used to. The hard hitters will never the same respect from the fans that they used to command. Sorry Dick Butkus, the image of you with blood on your jersey will never be celebrated again. The new league mandated independent neurological consultant won’t be the only one watching the dazed player to see if he’s concussed. The sport now has an entire stadium of fans and millions of people at home not just questioning whether the quarterback has the proper throwing motion, but if the team owners, coaches and medical staff are properly identifying and diagnosing concussions. Monday morning neurologists. Who would of thunk it? This may be the biggest victory that the lawyers and the player plaintiffs scored from the litigation. Increased awareness of brain damage and appropriate medical care for a sport that’s played not only by millionaire professional athletes, but also played for fun by thousands of 10 year olds and thousands of college students who will never play in a pro stadium. Congratulations players, you won.




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