SBD/June 26, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Players Concerned Eligibility Requirements Too Narrow In Revised Settlement

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With the monetary award fund now uncapped, payments are guaranteed
The NFL concussion case "isn't over," but yesterday's announcement of a revised settlement "is a key step in that direction," according to Gary Mihoces of USA TODAY. After the initial rejection, both sides "expressed confidence they could show the judge the money was there." But under the new agreement, the "monetary fund has no limit." Christopher Seeger, co-lead attorney for the players, said, "The most important change to this settlement is the monetary award fund is now uncapped, meaning payments from this fund will be guaranteed." He added, "Retired players and their families can now rely on the 100% guarantee that the fund will pay all eligible claims over its 65-year duration." Mihoces reports beyond monetary awards, those "with 'moderate' cognitive impairment would be eligible for NFL-funded baseline neurological and neurophyschological examinations and further testing, counseling and treatment." The revised settlement was "reached in collaboration" with Perry Golkin, a court special master appointed by U.S. District Court Judge Anita Brody. Seeger said that concessions "were made in return for the NFL agreement to the uncapped monetary fund." That included "a change in how often the NFL can appeal a qualifying diagnosis that would a player eligible for an award." Seeger said that the previous settlement "allowed 10 appeals a year for the NFL," but that limit "was removed" (USA TODAY, 6/26).

JUST THE BEGINNING: THE MMQB's Andy DeGory writes the settlement ultimately "looks like a win-win for the NFL and the players." Seeger said, "We heard concerns from players who needed to trust that the money would be there in, say, 40 years." He added, "There is no scenario where a player won't get paid. The biggest news of this is that in 15 or 25 years, you are still guaranteed to be compensated." Seeger noted that aside from "tightening some details the agreement between the players and the league remains largely unchanged." The standard will "remain the same for players seeking benefits; severe cognitive impairment will need to be proven to receive benefits." If, during a baseline assessment, mild cognitive issues "are identified, players will be eligible for follow-up treatment as part of the program" (MMQB.SI.com, 6/26). But in N.Y., Ken Belson notes skeptics "contend that the eligibility requirements are so narrow that the league's offer to remove the cap on cash awards is irrelevant." Pro Football HOFer Joe DeLamielleure said, "The question is how many hoops you have to jump through." Center For Class Action Fairness President Ted Frank said removing the cap is “obviously a big change." But he added, "The real question is whether it is just one set of changes or whether there is a second set of changes where the NFL gives with one hand and makes the restrictions tougher and takes away with the other hand" (N.Y. TIMES, 6/26).

LEGAL CHALLENGES STILL REMAIN: In N.Y., Michael O'Keeffe notes the proposed settlement "doesn't mean the NFL's legal battles with former players are drawing to a close." Former NFLer Jim McMahon and other retirees sued the league in May in S.F. federal court, claiming that the league "illegally gave them narcotics and other painkillers that led to addiction and long-term health problems" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 6/26).
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