The Right Way to Tackle the NFL Settlement

By: Christina Plummer & Jerika Morris

Last Year, a settlement agreement was signed between approximately 4,800 retired NFL players and the National Football League.  However, after questioning the sufficiency of the settlement a federal judge denied preliminary approval of the $765 million agreement.[1]  Under the agreement, the amounts awarded to the players would vary depending upon the retired player’s age and diagnosis.[2]  For instance a young retired player suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease would receive $5 million, a retired player with advanced dementia would receive $3
million, and an elderly retired player suffering from the early stages of dementia would receive $25,000.  In addition, retirees not experiencing any debilitating symptoms would receive “baseline screening” and subsequent care if necessary.[3]

After reviewing the settlement agreement, U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody requested further information regarding the parties’ financial records.[4]  In her opinion Judge Brody stated that she was primarily concerned that not all retired NFL football players who ultimately receive a qualifying diagnosis or their [families] … will be paid”….[5]  This concern stemmed from the lawyers failure to provide documentation to show that the funds were sufficient.[6]  Judge Brody wants the documents to be submitted to her Special Master for review.[7]  Specifically Brody is concerned about the BAP Fund (Baseline Assessment Program).[8] The Baseline Assessment Program allocates $75 million towards “baseline evaluations and medical monitoring that retired players will undergo to determine the existence and extent of any cognitive deficits.”[9]  Her main concern with this program is that it won’t last for decades.[10]

Judge Brody appears to be not only focusing on the well being and support for the current retired players but also the future retired players for years to come.  Judge Brody realized more quickly than the NFL that concussions have serious long-term effects.  It was not until 2009 that the NFL acknowledged concussions’ have long-term effects on players.[11]  The biggest issue however in trying to prepare for the future concussions, is the prediction that the injuries will continue.  The main concern for the NFL really should be finding a way to prevent these injuries from occurring.  For example, no money will help ex- NFL linebacker Steve Hendrickson remember what he had for dinner a day ago.[12]  In a recent interview, Hendrickson said his “short-term memory- I swear to God I wasn’t somewhere on Monday and then I look back at my notes and see that I was….”[13]  Picture a dangerous intersection that is constantly causing collisions, what is the town government going to do, constantly pay out money to the injured parties or put in a stop sign?  The situation with the NFL and the players and retired players is of a similar nature.  The problem isn’t that retired players don’t have the money to pay for these injuries; the problem is the injuries themselves.  Dr. Warren King, the Oakland Raiders team doctor said, “I think the biggest thing football can learn from rugby is that, no, you can’t use the head as a weapon ….”[14]  Although football players wear helmets while rugby players don’t, King says the helmets are a gift and curse because they provide the players with a false sense of security.[15]  To solve the problem, the NFL needs to implement a regulation from the ground up.  For example, future NFL players in the NCAA all the way to peewee leagues cannot be hitting one way and then transition smoothly to the NFL and hit a completely different way.  Although the transition into a safer technique may take some time and money, it will pay off in the long run for both the players and the NFL.  For the players they will limit their concussions, which will lead to a longer careers and for the NFL the amount of money they would have to pay out to the players in response to their injuries will drastically decrease.

One possible new technique the NFL could implement is wrap tackling, similar to that in rugby.  In wrap tackling “[a] tackler can’t just slam into the ballcarrier.  He has to wrap his arms around and bring him to the ground.  Tackling around the neck or head is illegal.  Tackling low—around the ankles or knees—is fine, but because you have to wrap up, you’re not barreling into a player’s knees and causing injuries the way roll block in football can.”[16]  Not only would this prevent players from injuring their head, it’s also a more efficient tackling technique.  How many times has a player just thrown their body at ballcarrier and end up not getting the tackling and injuring themselves?  This technique will help players become a better and safer tackler.  However, it is a technique that needs to be learned and ingrained in a player from a young age, which would require football players all the way down to pee wee leagues to learn.[17]

So for now, while the NFL’s attorneys are faced with proving the sufficiency of the $765 million settlement, the NFL organization needs to be more focused on making the game safer for its players.  Although the settlement needs to be adequate to provide for both present and future retired players, it is imperative that the NFL begins learning about and implementing new preventive methods to put an end to the injuries that require such money to be paid.


[1] Judge Blocks NFL Concussion Settlement, Npr.org (Jan. 15, 2014), http://www.npr.org/2014/01/15/262738818/judge-blocks-nfl-concussion-settlement.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Andrew Brandt, Getting Down to Business, The MMQB, (Jan. 16, 2014), http://mmqb.si.com/2014/01/16/nfl-finances-concussion-settlement-playoff-pay/.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Lauren Ezell, Timeline: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis, Frontline (Oct. 8, 2013, 9:57 PM), http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/sports/league-of-denial/timeline-the-nfls-concussion-crisis/.

[12] Joshua R. Miller, Ex-NFL Players Eye $765M Settlement, Even if They Haven’t Signed On, FoxNews.com (Jan. 18, 2014), http://www.foxnews.com/sports/2014/01/18/ex-nfl-players-eye-765m-settlement-even-if-havent-signed-on/.

[13] Id.

[14] Alex Goff, Concussions: How Rugby Can Help Football, ThePostgame., (Oct. 15, 2013, 1:25 AM), http://www.thepostgame.com/blog/eye-performance/201310/rugby-football-concussions-tackling-safety-technique.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

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