Winners and Losers of the NFL Concussion Settlement

PHOTO: Dallas Cowboys running back and Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett (33) takes a hard hit against the Washington Redskins in Washington. Dorsett was one of 4,500 former players who settled a concussion-related lawsuit with the NFL for $765 million. AP
Dallas Cowboys running back and Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett (33) takes a hard hit against the Washington Redskins in Washington. Dorsett was one of 4,500 former players who settled a concussion-related lawsuit with the NFL for $765 million. (AP Photo/File)

Yesterday, the NFL and plaintiffs announced a $765 million settlement for the 4,500-plaintiff concussion lawsuit that loomed over the league as a new season is prepared to launch next Thursday.

The settlement came after two months of negotiations in Philadelphia under the supervision of Judge Layn Phillips, a court-appointed moderator for the case. The class-action suit sought compensation for claims that the NFL lied to players about the dangers of head injuries, and hiding evidence that head trauma is linked to long-term brain damage.

The plaintiffs sought damages and funding for medical research. The NFL sought a dismissal of the case. It could be argued both sides got what they wanted.

If U.S. District Judge Anita B. Broday approves the settlement (which she is expected to do), the NFL will pay half of the settlement in the next three years, and the balance over the following 17 years. Because the settlement requires the NFL to pay for legal fees, total expenses from the NFL could exceed $1 billion.

But what does that mean for the thousands of people involved or indirectly affected by the case? Well, below we rounded up the winners and losers in the landmark case.

The Winners

1. The NFL: The NFL is the most obvious winner in the settlement, the most significant reason for which is money. A $765 million settlement sure does sound like a high number, but it’s actually an incredibly small percentage of the resources the NFL has, considering the league generates an average $9 billion in revenue per year. ESPN pays the NFL roughly twice the settlement figure for the rights to broadcast Monday Night Football. The figure is also much lower than litigation and losing the case would have cost. (Disclosure: ESPN is owned by Disney, which also owns ABC, a parent corporation of Fusion.)

2. Roger Goodell: Goodell, the NFL's commissioner, succeeded where Goodell always succeeds: narrowly avoiding PR nightmares. With a new season launching next week, Goodell doesn’t have to worry about reporters talking about concussions as an unaddressed issue.

3. Team franchises: Each franchise will pay an estimated $30 million, which is a fraction of the average franchise 2013 revenue (which Forbes estimated at $286 million).

4. NFL attorneys: Also important for the NFL, another lawsuit like this one is highly unlikely. In the statement, Judge Phillips said, “[T]he underlying theory of this lawsuit about what took place in the past would be difficult to replicate in the future.” Meaning, the odds are in the NFL’s favor that it won’t have to deal with the concussion issue in court like this again.

5. More severely aggrieved players: Kevin Turner, a former running back for the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots, has been diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly referred to as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. And he’s not alone. In 2011, a study at Boston University led by Dr. Ann McKee found that NFL players were eight to ten times more likely to develop ALS than the average person. The settlement will allow players like Turner to receive compensation now, not after years of litigation -- years these players might not have.

“The benefits in this agreement will make a difference not only for me and my family, but also for thousands of my football brothers who either need help today or may need help someday in the future,” Turner said in the statement.

The Losers

1. Some of the plaintiffs: The most severely injured patients will receive the most funding, which is capped at $4-5 million per plaintiff. The $765 million settlement fee breaks down on average to $170,000 per player, but that will be weighted against individual injuries. When you consider that some of these former players don’t have health care and have filed for bankruptcy, that money might only go so far.

2. The public: Now that the case is closed, the NFL does not have to release any of the documents or records that could have been used in litigation. Settling means that the NFL won’t have to testify under oath about what it knew about concussions, when it knew and how it actively handled brain injury among players. For the time being, we’ll be in the dark.

3. Frontline: Just two weeks ago, ESPN pulled its support from PBS Frontline's investigative concussion documentary “League of Denial.” Two days after the announcement, The New York Times reported that ESPN’s decision was the result of pressure from NFL executives, which was later reported to be dissatisfaction with language used in promotional material. Now, “League of Denial” will likely have to add in a new ending, but more important, the documentary will never get the validation of its reporting via NFL court testimony -- or the wider platform offered by ESPN's programming reach.