Burwell: NFL settlement has no winners
AUGUST 30, 2013 12:05 PM • BRYAN BURWELL •
The little kids were just a few feet away, scooting and scampering across the artificial turf in the Edward Jones Dome in their oversized equipment and undersized bodies. They chanted and whooped and strutted around the place, mimicking perfectly the NFL giants they all dream of becoming one day.
And there was Stan White, retired pro linebacker, veteran of 11 violent NFL seasons. White is a color radio and TV analyst for the Baltimore Ravens now, but in his playing days he was not only a damned good linebacker but a hardcore union guy back when the players were grossly underpaid and no one really knew (or cared?) what sort of long-term damage was being done to their bodies.
He’d been a soldier in the NFL labor trenches before, fought a lot of damned hard fights for the rights of the players. But on Thursday night as he prepped for the broadcast of the Rams-Ravens preseason finale, he did not feel much like celebrating the news that the NFL had reached a staggering $765 million out of court settlement over concussion-related brain injuries among its 18,000 retired players.
White knew what this was all about – and more importantly, what it wasn’t about.
“This will help a lot of those men and their families who really need the money,” White said. “Lots of guys are suffering and in bad shape physically and financially. They need this real bad.”
But White wasn’t ready to fist bump or wave the union banner because this wasn’t a victory that insures the overall long-term health of the game. It is a short-term fix, an immediate and necessary life line to a lot of his retired brothers who are suffering the devastating effects of too much brain trauma.
“They need it. They deserve it and I’m glad the money’s coming from the owners, because they are the ones who should be paying for this,” he said.
But no, he said, he wasn’t happy, just relieved, because this story is damaging the image of the game he loves.
“I’m a high school football coach,” said White. “I don’t want parents scared to let their sons play this game.”
This is all part of the strange and conflicting inner struggle going on within the NFL community. How do you fix the game without killing it? How do you dare ask some of these battered and bruised men to make any more sacrifices for the greater good of the game, when all they’re trying to do now is just get to tomorrow without losing their minds or killing themselves?
So when White heard the voices of those who think the retired players should have stood their ground, dug their heels in the ground, refused to settle out of court, forcing the NFL into a courtroom and before a jury where the potential for a bigger financial and legal victories could have occurred, he shakes his head.
No, he says, these men have already sacrificed enough. They are simply looking for assistance to get them and their families through the demands of coping with the early onset of dementia, Alzheimer’s and so many other maladies that likely were a result of too many concussions from playing football.
And White’s not alone. D’Marco Farr, the former Rams defensive tackle, looked me in the eye on Thursday night and asked the most sobering question of all:
“Hold out for what?” he said. “How many of them have time to hold out? That clock is ticking on these guys lives. Who knows how long some of them have to live. That’s not their fight anymore.”
The retired players in this lawsuit failed to get the NFL to admit to any wrongdoing. This settlement means most likely that the NFL will never have to disclose internal files about what it knew and when it knew about concussion-linked brain problems. Lawyers for the retired players had been fighting to learn what was in those files, including the findings of the league’s Mild Traumatic Brian Injury Committee, which was in place for more than a decade.
“But what could the NFL be hiding?” asked Farr. “That this is a dangerous game? Hell, we all knew that. That we could get concussions and they could do damage to us long term? Well, hell I knew that too. What could possibly be in those files that we don’t already know?”
But I asked Farr the same question, but with a different twist. What could possibly be in those files that was worth $765 million in hush money to the NFL? What was worth paying that monstrous settlement to insure that what was in those files never came out?
We’ll have to find another group of plaintiffs to dig that up, men who aren’t suffering the way so many of these plaintiffs and their families are. You’ll have to find someone who is willing to go the long haul, to endure the lengthy legal procrastinations that the NFL’s team of lawyers will surely put them through. It will have to be someone who says the goal is to get those files, to find out what the NFL may have been hiding, and to force the league to admit it did withhold important data on concussions and brain trauma and bad helmets or improper on-field or post-concussion care.
There are a lot of questions that weren’t answered in this settlement, but the simple truth is, this battle never was intended to get to the root of those questions.
“This is an extraordinary agreement that will provide immediate care and support to retired players and their families,” said the plaintiffs lead attorney Christopher Seeger. “This … will get help quickly to the men who suffered neurological injuries. It will do so faster and at far less cost, both financially and emotionally than could have ever been accomplished by continuing to litigate.”
It’s time for someone else to pick up the fight and take it from here to where it really needs to go.