SBD/August 30, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL's Settlement With Retirees Allows League To Avoid Acknowleding Any Wrongdoing

While the NFL reached a proposed settlement of $765M with the more than 4,500 retired players who sued the league over the dangers of head trauma, the league "does not have to pay" the full amount at once: "it can disburse the money over 20 years," according to a front-page piece by Ken Belson of the N.Y. TIMES. The league also "avoids a discovery process" and it "did not acknowledge any wrongdoing with how it dealt with head injuries." The settlement "still needs approval" from U.S. District Court Judge Anita Brody, and players also will be "given a chance to opt out of it and pursue a separate suit against the NFL" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/30). ESPN.com's Lester Munson wrote with the deal, team owners "are going to be happier than the players." If the settlement sum is "divided equally among the 32 owners, then each owner will pay only" $24M, which will "be paid in installments." And a large portion of the $24M will "be paid from league and team insurance." Munson: "If you told any owner a year ago that he could escape from the concussion crisis with a payment of $24 million, he would have been relieved and happy" (ESPN.com, 8/29). Full details of the settlement follow:

DETAILS OF $765M CONCUSSION SETTLEMENT
Bulk of money: $675M will go to former players who suffered cognitive injury. Funds could go to their families and covers all 18,000 former NFL players.
Payout limits: $5M for Alzheimer's disease; $4M to families of those diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy; $3M for those with dementia.
Other funds: Will be used for testing, research, education, legal fees and administrative costs.
Timing: NFL will pay half over the next three years. Remaining half will be spread over the next 17 years.

HOW THE DEAL WENT DOWN
: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Futterman & Clark in a front-page piece note the agreement, reached at 2:00am ET Thursday after "nine weeks of intense mediation, came far earlier than most expected" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 8/30). Christopher Seeger, co-counsel for the retirees, sounded satisfied with the amount on Thursday, and rebuffed questions from reporters asking if the $765M was less than he expected. An insurance company lawyer earlier this year said the total settlement could be $2.5B. Seeger called the NFL tough negotiators, and specifically referred to Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones as a "hard ass" (Daniel Kaplan, Staff Writer).  The N.Y. TIMES' Belson writes lawyers for the plaintiffs were "eager to reach a settlement because many of their clients have debilitating neurological problems that need attention." Without a deal, a legal remedy "might have taken years, with no guarantee that the courts would rule in favor of the players." Seeger: "The big picture was we got immediate care to the retired players." Seeger said that assuming Brody "signs off, the deal could take about 180 days for the players to start receiving compensation." If the deal is approved, "approximately half of the settlement amount will be paid over the next three years, with the balance issued over the next 17 years" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/30). ABC News' Dan Harris asked Seeger, "By settling, have you let them off the hook?" Seeger: "No, unless somebody thinks paying $760 million is letting somebody off the hook" ("World News Tonight," ABC, 8/29).  In L.A., Farmer & Healy note in a front-page piece that current players "are not covered by the agreement" (L.A. TIMES, 8/30).

Plaintiffs' attorney says Jerry Jones was a "hard ass"
during settlement negotiations
OWNERS REACT: Jones: "The players that have been impacted, and the players that could be potentially impacted, will get the money rather than the attorneys. There wasn’t a 'who’s right' or 'who’s wrong' here. It’s just that the money will go to the ones that need that." Seeger: "You all can assume that the NFL and the NFL owners are pretty tough individuals. In fact, you’ve got one down in Texas who I would call a hard-ass. I think that’s a fair characterization" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 8/30). Patriots Owner Robert Kraft complimented NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash by saying, "The fact that before the season started they were able to get it settled and done. ....  I know how much we are doing to focus on safety and health issues for all of football" ("NFL Total Access," NFL Network, 8/29). Giants President & CEO John Mara: "We felt like we had some very strong defenses so who knows how that would have come out. The only thing for certain is it would have delayed for many years the chances of any of those plaintiffs getting any money out of this and some needed sooner rather than later." He added, "I just feel good about the fact that there are some former players out there who are not in good condition right now and we’re going to be able to help them" (NJ.com, 8/29). Mara said, "It could have gone on for eight or 10 years. This hopefully will get some money to some people who could use some help" (NEWSDAY, 8/30).

INSIDE THE DEAL: THE MMQB's Peter King wrote the NFL's "nuclear-winter scenario has vanished." This is a "very fair deal to buy peace of mind for the next decade." King: "I'm told that there was a strong consensus of the owners to do the deal that was on the table between the two sides" (MMQB.SI.com, 8/29). Legal experts said that the plaintiffs' attorneys "didn't believe they had enough firepower to win in court" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 8/30). PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio wrote the "most important point" driving the settlement was "the looming ruling on whether all or most of the claims would be steered toward the arbitration process." That "helped the two sides come together and work out their own resolution" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 8/29).

AND THE WINNER IS...
: The N.Y. TIMES' Belson writes the settlement will "be seen as a victory for the league," which "faced the possibility of billions of dollars in liability payments and a discovery phase that could have proved damaging if the case had moved forward" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/30). On Long Island, Bob Glauber notes the deal, if approved, would "remove one of the thorniest financial and public relations problems facing the league in recent years." That means the league "would be protected from being sued on similar grounds in the future" (NEWSDAY, 8/30). In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch writes this "can only be seen as a huge victory for a league that had been rocked in recent years by the mounting fallout from concussion-related injuries." Hubbuch: "Not surprisingly, the NFL was keeping a low profile in the wake of its big victory." The league "refused comment aside from a statement" by Pash that said the owners wanted to avoid a lengthy court case (N.Y. POST, 8/30). SI.com's Michael McCann noted by settling, the league "obtains control over the controversy and prevents the prospect of jury of a dozen people from dictating the league's future." The NFL also "sidesteps any potential damaging disclosures in the pretrial discovery process" (SI.com, 8/29). FORBES.com's Tom Van Riper wrote the NFL "rids itself of a big potential problem." It also "gets a PR boost at a time it could use one, just as the concussion issue has been front and center in the public eye during recent months" (FORBES.com, 8/29). In N.Y., Thomson & Red write the proposed settlement "allows the NFL to begin regular-season play next week without the specter of an emotional and divisive topic hanging over the new season" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/30).

WHAT'S NEXT: The NFL now must turn its attention to its insurers, who the league is suing to try to cover the costs of the now settlement (Kaplan). In N.Y., Thomson & Red write there is "still a lawsuit" pending against helmet manufacturer Riddell (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/30).  The size of the NFL settlement "could motivate other athletes to sue their leagues, including the NCAA." But those players "may not get as far as the NFL retirees if they are unable to show that a league or governing body knowingly withheld information about the dangers of head injuries" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/30). Toronto-based lawyer Caroline Zayid "believes the already-long odds of former NHL players attempting legal action against the league over the matter of concussions have become a little longer with the" settlement. Zayid: "This avoids them having to release all the documents that would show what they knew and when they knew it." She added, "If all the documents had been produced, it might have made it easier to follow the trail and figure out when certain information became widely known and when medical evidence came to light" (GLOBE & MAIL, 8/30).  In Boston, Erin Smith writes the agreement "signals a new awareness that could trickle down to college, high school and even Pop Warner teams looking to increase safety on the gridiron" (BOSTON HERALD, 8/30).
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