The '13 NFL season begins tonight with Ravens-Broncos, and the league is coming out of an "especially tumultuous offseason, one in which the very nature of the game was scrutinized daily," according to Rick Maese of the WASHINGTON POST. The league is "trying to emerge from a dark cloud of player health and safety concerns and last week reached a proposed settlement with about 4,500 former players who were suing over concussions." It also has "instituted new rules this season that will bar runners and tacklers from initiating contact with the crowns of their helmets and has stepped up its efforts to educate youth players on proper techniques." NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said of the lawsuit settlement, "I don’t know how it’s going to be remembered. I know what its effect is going to be, which is going to provide help for the players and the families that have cognitive issues" (WASHINGTON POST, 9/5). In N.Y., Gary Myers reports Goodell yesterday endorsed the $765M settlement "as a means to quickly delivering money to the players who need it most." He "dismissed arguments it was chump change for the league in exchange for dumping a big headache." Goodell: "People start with making an assumption that we make $10 billion. But that's $10 billion in revenue. There's a difference between making and revenue. This is a significant amount of money" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/5).
JUST THE BEGINNING? Four former NFLers earlier this week filed a separate lawsuit against the league and helmet maker Riddell, and SI's Jim Trotter said, "Guys still see an opportunity to get money because they believe that the league doesn’t want to go to discovery and have all of this bad information come out into the public arena. We’re going to see more lawsuits.” He added, “What I would hope is that one player would say, or former player would say, ‘You know what, I don’t need the money but I want transparency. I want people to know what’s been going on’” (“Rome,” CBS Sports Network, 9/4). A USA TODAY editorial states brain injuries in the NFL, "once ignored, are now taken seriously." The editorial: "Give the NFL credit for change, but keep in mind this reformation didn't spring solely from altruism. It wouldn't have happened without pressure from Congress, scorching publicity, suicides by several ex-players and a massive lawsuit charging that the league misled players about the long-term dangers of concussions. ... Making an inherently violent game less dangerous won't be easy. How to measure success? If there's no need for another huge settlement 20 years from now" (USA TODAY, 9/5).
IMMEDIATE RESULTS FROM SETTLEMENT: ESPN's Steve Young, who was not part of the lawsuit, said the concussion settlement is "great" because there is "money now available for guys that are suffering" ("PTI," ESPN, 9/4). The AP's Joe Kay notes the settlement "gives former players immediate help with their medical bills" and a "drawn-out court fight was avoided." However, the "back-and-forth goes unabated with so many questions unanswered." CBS analyst Boomer Esiason said, "You can say it's Pandora's box that's been opened, but they are trying to find solutions. As a former player, I'm thankful they're doing that." Fox analysts Troy Aikman and John Lynch yesterday "agreed that the league has more work to do on head injuries." Aikman "wants the NFL to divulge more details about what it knew about the long-term impact of repeated blows to the head." Lynch "expects more litigation" (AP, 9/5). In Toronto, Morgan Campbell writes while it is "possible a sense of altruism motivated the NFL to offer a quick settlement, observers also point out that the league had a strong business case for avoiding litigation." The NFL's lawyers in a long trial "might have argued that some of [the] concussions leading to players’ brain damage may have occurred before those players turned pro -- a tactic that would have soured the NFL’s relationships with the universities that feed it players." Sources said that "more immediately ... the league avoids admitting a role in the players’ brain damage, and it dodges a discovery process that would have revealed exactly what league officials knew about the long-term effects of football-related head trauma" (TORONTO STAR, 9/5).
WILL THIS CHANGE THE GAME? ESPN NFL analyst Herm Edwards appeared on CBS' "Late Show" last night, and host David Letterman brought up the safety concerns with football, saying, "I talked to people much smarter than I am and they say that in 10, 15, 20 years, the NFL-style football will be much different than it is now because of concerns about the health of the players." Edwards said, "Our society, we love competitive violence within the framework of the rules, and that's what the National Football League is, competitive violence." But Letterman said, "As you well know, the residue of that is injuries that not only affect lives of players and their playing time but their lives generally and beyond and not just leg, knee and foot. We're talking more seriously head injuries. I guess we've been naive about that, haven't we?" Edwards agreed and said, "We have, and we've taken studies now and will continue to study. I think the league is going about it the right way, along with the rule changes." Letterman: "Sooner or later, people will say, 'Well, it's just not worth the price of injuries.'" Edwards added, "We say that. I think with the continuation of real safety for players, the way we're trying to teach the game anymore, this game is the No. 1 game" (“Late Show,” CBS, 9/4).
PREVENT DEFENSE: In Baltimore, Childs Walker notes Goodell yesterday promoted the Head Health Challenge II, which pairs the league with Under Armour and GE in a $10M effort "to fund innovation in treatment, equipment and training for youth players." The initiative, which will "provide seed money to those with new ideas related to head protection, is another piece in the NFL's attempt to improve its public response to the concussion issue." Goodell said that the "first phase of the health challenge attracted 400 ideas from more than 100 countries." Goodell added these ideas will "change the way we diagnose concussions not just in football, not just in sports, but in the military and beyond that." Goodell: "This is a worldwide issue, not just a football issue. But we accept the mantle of responsibility, and we're going to change the way people play sports and the way people live" (Baltimore SUN, 9/5).