The NFL has agreed to pay $765 million to settle lawsuits from thousands of former players who have developed dementia and other concussion-related health problems that they say were caused by the game. Sports editor Jon Styf and columnist Tom Musick discuss:
Musick: I usually crack open my copy of 101 Bad Jokes for our Take 2 segments, but nothing is funny about this topic. What do you make of the NFL settlement? Have we reached the end of this story?
Styf: The story is clearly not done. But this is the best thing for all parties. Years of litigation would just eat up money on both sides that could be going to help get medical assistance to former players already affected and research to help figure out what is actually going on. The sad part is, the doctors still don’t know nearly enough to properly figure out what makes one player more susceptible than another to long-term head trauma (notice I am not saying concussion) risks.
Musick: Per your request, I noticed that you were not saying concussion. What’s important about making that distinction?
Styf: The long-term issues come from the quantity of hits, not just the big concussive ones. That distinction is rarely made. Former players have been found to have CTE with zero recorded concussions. Not that concussions are good, but this isn’t about the acute brain injuries, it’s about the long-term head jostling. Now, the hope is that this money goes to the right people and the right research.
Musick: I agree, and to take it one step further, here’s hoping that coaches and players at all levels of the game are receptive to that research. Yes, football is a violent sport. Yes, injuries (including head injuries) always will be a part of the game. But if you combine safer helmets with stricter rules and greater awareness among coaches and players, maybe you can improve the long-term quality of life for those who play the game.
Styf: I also don’t buy the helmet thing. I’ve heard plenty of times about how helmet research will help this, but I have yet to have seen a helmet that can stop your brain from jostling around inside your head upon impact. That’s the issue. There’s an analogy, of your brain being like the yolk inside an egg. You can’t stop the yolk from moving upon impact, regardless what type of protection you put on the outside of the egg. Think of your brain and impact head injuries in football like that. Limiting contact is the only way to limit head injuries.
Musick: So, what is the end game here? Have we reached the point where football players know what they are signing up for, and it’s up to them to weigh the risks? Or is this settlement just the tip of the iceberg?
Styf: I think that’s exactly right. The lawsuits were based on the NFL’s denial that these head injuries existed. They denied it for years, and there is pretty good evidence they knew better. So, contact will continue to be limited more and more. And players will have to sign waivers, acknowledging they know what they’re getting into. Like tattoos and guns and cigarettes, it might actually encourage more to play.
Musick: And people will continue to watch, and the NFL will continue to make gobs of money, and that $765 million settlement will look like loose change.