An unprecedented settlement between the National Football League and thousands of former players with concussion-related health issues is a pragmatic if unsatisfying compromise. The NFL certainly has the revenue to pay more than the $765 million to settle 4,500 claims by former players and their families. But many of the players cannot wait for years of court battles to play out and need the money to pay for treatment and help their loved ones.
For the NFL, which makes nearly $10 billion a year primarily from lucrative television deals, the settlement is less than 10 percent of its annual revenue and roughly the value of one small-market franchise. But the settlement avoids costly and protracted litigation that could have stretched for years and provides immediate, much-needed financial help to damaged players suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, Alzheimer's disease, Lou Gehrig's disease and extreme chronic depression stemming from repeated head injuries on the field. In all, some 20,000 former players or surviving family members are eligible for compensation.
With no court trial, the image-obsessed NFL will avoid potentially embarrassing discovery proceedings where officials would have been forced to address allegations that the league was aware of scientific data substantiating the long-term debilitating effects of concussions yet failed to warn players of the risks. Former players benefited from avoiding discovery testimony that might have delved into prior concussive injuries from playing football in high school and college.
The long-term dangers of repeated head injuries came into vivid and tragic relief with the suicides of former NFL stars Junior Seau, Dave Duerson and Andre Waters. All of them were found to be suffering from CTE. Reflecting the risk football players face on the field, in post mortem examinations CTE has been found in the brains of every former NFL player tested.
From the stands, a professional football player's life seems glamorous. And it can be. But the NFL settlement is sobering reminder that there is a potentially deadly price to pay years after the cheers have faded. The medical research into these football-related health issues should continue, the safety equipment should continue to be improved and players at all levels should be better informed of the risks of playing the violent sport.