The NFL has agreed to pay $765 million for treatment, exams and research related to concussions and other head injuries suffered by players. And anyone who thinks that's a good deal for the players needs to have his head examined.
It sounds like a pretty good chunk of change, at the outset. But it's less than a tenth of the annual revenues of the NFL, which makes billions of dollars hosting what have become gladiator-type competitions. It's far less than victims have received in other settlements involving tobacco or breast implants. And, of course, the NFL – ever arrogant – is paying the money on the condition it not accept any responsibility for the damage done to players over the years.
So you think professional football players are overpaid, and the settlement is pretty good for athletes who willingly got onto the field and subjected themselves to head-butts and full-body tackles by 300-plus-pound opponents? Tell that to the families of former players Junior Seau and Ray Easterling, who committed suicide after suffering head injuries. Tell it to Buffalo Bills quarterback Kevin Kolb, who suffered concussions in 2010 and 2011 and again in a pre-season game last week against the Washington Redskins. The last injury, the Bills fear, may be "career-ending." Kolb is 29.
The settlement is less than the value of the league's least-valued team, the Oakland Raiders. It's a fraction of the estimated $2.5 billion the league is believed to be liable for had the litigation continued.
The surviving injured players were in a terrible situation. The league, after all, with its rich owners whose main contribution to the game consists of sitting in a luxury box and watching men put their health and very lives at stake in a game that has become increasingly aggressive and dangerous, can drag out a case for years. The men in desperate need of care don't have that luxury.
The NFL says it wants to make the game safer, and to learn what dangers the game can do to players' health. But the $10 million in the settlement assigned to research and education is a pittance. Further, ESPN pulled out of a joint investigation with PBS on a series the network is soon to show on the damage the game is doing to the human brain. The official story is that the two networks sparred over editorial control, but the New York Times reported that ESPN's withdrawal came after a "combative" meeting with NFL execs. And there's a strong financial relationship there: ESPN pays the NFL $1.9 billion a year to air Monday Night Football.
Football's a great game, but it can't survive if it's not made safer for the players. The hits the athletes are taking on the field are brutal. The hit they took with the paltry settlement and lack of responsibility accepted by the NFL is worse.