NFL and Former Players Settle Lawsuit:  Big Win For Owners?

By on September 9, 2013 9:09 am
Institute of Sports Law and Ethics

I spent the long holiday weekend in and around New York City, and as is my habit, I listened to a good deal of local sports-talk radio while on my travels.  The settlement in the NFL concussions case had just been announced when I arrived in New York, and I was curious to learn how New Yorkers would react.

The position expressed by the vast majority of New York area fans (at least what I heard) could be summarized as follows, in the words of one of my cab drivers:

“The players got screwed, like always. This is just another example of rich guys buying their way out of a problem.”

That was also my reaction when I first heard the news of the settlement.  However, as I gave it more thought, I realized that maybe the settlement wasn’t such a bad thing after all for the players.  Let me explain my thinking, and I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Most of what we read and heard leading up to the settlement announcement focused on the question of what the NFL knew, and when did they know it, regarding the dangers of concussions.  The NFL position certainly was not enhanced as disturbing information about Elliot Pellman, a rheumatologist who somehow assumed considerable influence in the NFL regarding concussion-related issues,  came to light.

What was overlooked in all the attention directed at the NFL is the reality that the players’ case was far from a slam-dunk.  In particular, legal experts have noted that issues of causation (did the damage occur in Pop Warner, high school, college or the NFL?) and preemption likely would have been substantial hurdles for the players to overcome had this matter gone further.

And of course, there is the significant issue of timing.  Legal analysts have noted that this matter would have taken the better part of a decade, and millions of dollars in costs on each side, before it was ultimately resolved.   Many of the players and their families have immediate financial needs and are in no position to roll the dice over an extended period of time.

Taking those factors into consideration, the settlement feels more like a win/win to me today than it did initially.  The problem is, the NFL makes so much money that I can’t help but wish the league had sweetened its financial commitment to the players.

So what do you think?

A clear win for the NFL?  Or a reasonable resolution to a difficult case with an uncertain outcome, a situation in which many plaintiffs simply did not have the time to wait for the results of extended litigation?

I’m interested in your thoughts.  Contact me at mgilleran@scu.edu.

Thanks.

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