NFL settles concussion lawsuit for chump change, but what about the lies it peddled to school kids?
The National Football League’s settlement of a lawsuit over the issue of player concussions will cost $765 million, which is about 7.6 percent of the league’s revenues in one year — and the money will be paid over the course of 20 years.
Beyond the chump-change financial angle, there’s another problem with the settlement, as Alan Schwarz EXPLAINS:
Under the no-fault deal, the N.F.L. can forever deny that it could have mitigated its players’ dementia or memory loss or that its focus ever strayed from the safety of football players, from professionals down to peewees.
Even the mediator who brokered the settlement, Judge Layn Phillips, concluded, “Parents should know that the N.F.L. and the plaintiffs are committed to doing what’s right for the game and making it safer at all levels.”
To those versed in the league’s concussion history, invoking the N.F.L.’s influence on the four million children who play youth and high school football was particularly curious. While both retired players and N.F.L. executives claimed victory over the settlement, which will cover future expenses related to on-the-job brain damage, invisible behind them was the legion of young players who have long been endangered by the league’s actions — those same actions that the settlement effectively absolved.
Only after intense news media and Congressional pressure from 2007 to 2009 did the N.F.L. even acknowledge that concussions could have long-term neurological effects. Before that, N.F.L. officials and the league’s committee on brain injuries discredited any suggestion in the popular or scientific press that concussions were any more than the “dings” that players became accustomed to calling them. While international groups of doctors were beginning to emphasize the dangers of repeated brain trauma in sports, the N.F.L. waited.
Some were more brazen than others. In 2000, the Cowboys’ owner, Jerry Jones, told ESPN that he would push Troy Aikman, one of football’s most popular players, to ignore concussion concerns during the playoffs “since all data that we have so far don’t point to any lasting effects, long-term effects from the head trauma.”
The N.F.L. committee, dominated by team-employed physicians, was formed in 1994 to investigate why often-concussed stars like Steve Young were having such trouble staying in games. It soon published studies that claimed to put the matter to rest. Their primary messages, which directly conflicted with those of outside literature, were that repeated concussions had no long-term neurocognitive consequences and that a concussed player — even one knocked unconscious — could, in fact, safely return to a game…
The N.F.L.’s message was heard. The bravado that so many young players wanted to adopt from their N.F.L. heroes — “It’s not dangerous to play through a concussion,” one high school player from Illinois insisted to The New York Times — was now available for download on a scientific journal’s Web site.
“That was a major disservice, and it continues to be an ongoing one in conversations I have with parents and coaches and players,” a team physician for several high schools and colleges in New Jersey, Dr. Gerard Malanga, said in 2007. “It creates confusion when there’s increasing clarity on the subject. They say what I tell them about it not being safe to go back in the same game is totally wrong, and they’re backed by the N.F.L.”
…An outside study tying retired players’ concussions to depression later in life was called “virtually worthless” by an N.F.L. committee member. Amid reports that N.F.L. retirees were increasingly found to have dementia, an N.F.L. spokesman denied any connection to football by saying dementia “affects many elderly people.”
After the deceased lineman Justin Strzelczyk was found to have had C.T.E., Commissioner Roger Goodell said there was no proof the damage resulted from football. Strzelczyk “may have had a concussion swimming,” Goodell said.
The N.F.L.’s denials of outside evidence reached what many considered the absurd in September 2009, when The Times made public a University of Michigan study, commissioned by the N.F.L., that found that retired players of various ages had been found to have dementia at 5 to 19 times the national rate. The N.F.L. immediately distanced itself from the finding, and its committee’s co-chairman Ira Casson said, “What I take from this report is, there’s a need for further studies.”
What ultimately forced the league to change its approach was an embarrassing Congressional hearing during which Goodell struggled to defend the N.F.L.’s behavior. A California representative bluntly told Goodell that his league resembled the tobacco industry.