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NFL Settlement: Just another Bandaid for Traumatic Brain Injury


BIAA Questions the Fairness of Secret Settlements

More than two hundred years ago, the seventh amendment was written to provide, inviolate, the right to a trial by jury in civil cases. This right to a jury trial was based on an open and transparent judicial system where legal merits would be free from secrecy.

Over the past few years, the issues of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and concussion have permeated the National Football League (NFL) as well as other American sports institutions, such as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). These institutions are a multi-billion dollar consortium of owners, athletic directors, and university presidents who are desperate to preserve their never-ending income at the expense of their greatest assets: the players.

It is believed that the fair value of the NFL alone is well over $1 billion per franchise, or $32 billion for the league. A series of lawsuits have been filed against the NFL, NCAA, and football helmet manufacturer Riddell. These suits allege, in part, that the institutions that make so much money from the sports were or should have been aware of the inherent dangers of TBI, multiple concussions and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) or dementia related to Alzheimer’s disease.

While a player may look perfectly normal on the outside, the brain is injured to a degree that a normal life is no longer possible. Some of the most notable victims of sports-related brain injury include players such as Dave Duerson, Junior Seau, Brett Favre, and Deion Sanders, as well as many other lesser-known players who remain silent on the sidelines while attempting to cope with their lives.

In July, the NFL launched an aggressive publicity campaign touting a "revolutionary" settlement paying out a record $765 million to settle a class action suit brought on behalf of former pro players. The pool of potential beneficiaries consists of 4,500 players, many of whom will not qualify for the settlement or will realize no financial benefit as a result of the settlement.

Of the total funds promised by the NFL, only $10 million is dedicated to brain injury research, none of which is allocated to prevention. Instead, the NFL has launched a campaign touting "heads up" tackling to make a potentially deadly sport less dangerous.                                

Brain injury statistics are sobering. More than 2.4 million Americans suffer brain injuries each year, resulting in a cost to society of more than $76 billion per year. Brain injury can affect anyone, anytime, and anywhere, including on the playing field.

However, when an institution knows -- or should have known -- of injury caused by a sport that contributes so much money to their bottom line, shouldn't that institution be legally responsible to pay for the harm caused?

To date, the NFL and player representatives have negotiated in backrooms and failed to provide the details of the proposed settlement and whether it is in the interest of a vast majority of players that may qualify under the terms of the agreement.

The Brain Injury Association of America is calling on the NFL to, at a minimum, provide copies of the settlement agreement to the injured players and to the media in order to ensure transparency as provided by the seventh amendment.

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