At first blush, it sounds like judicial overreach and meddling: Why would a judge throw out a financial settlement already agreed to by both parties?
That's what Judge Anita B. Brody did with a concussion lawsuit brought by 4,500 former football players against the National Football League. The players are looking for money to pay for treatment and testing for the injuries caused by years of getting their heads slammed by opposing players while the owners, sitting in their luxury boxes, collectively made billions and billions of dollars in profits. The league and the players (who were part of a class action suit) agreed last August to a settlement of $765 million, $675 million of which would go to payouts to injured players.
That sounds like a big chunk of change. It's not. As Ken Stern, author of "With Charity For All: Why Charities Are Failing and a Better Way to Give," notes, the NFL has bizarrely been awarded non-profit status even though it is a huge profit-making enterprise. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's compensation in 2011 topped $29 million, Stern points out – hardly the sort of salary one expects for the head of a charitable organization. And that same year, six current or former NFL officials made more than $1 million. That's aside from the obscene profits made by the owners.
And how charitable has this charity been? Its member team owners have managed to extort all sorts of tax breaks from struggling cities under the threat of moving their teams elsewhere. Build us a better stadium (usually with more luxury boxes for high-income fans) or we'll leave, they say. Give us tax breaks or we'll take our sports elsewhere, they add.
Football is – or should be – a great game, full of powerful passes, clever plays and graceful breakaway runs to the goalposts. Instead, it increasingly has become a modern-day gladiator competition, with beefier and beefier players rewarded for bashing the heads and limbs of their opponents. The concussions are only part of the problem, and they are serious, leading not only to debilitating injuries but perhaps to the tragic suicides by brain-damaged former players. An while the league says it's clamping down on on-field aggression, it's clear the violent aspect of the game is a protected marketing ploy. Anyone see that head-butt a San Francisco 49ers player delivered to a New Orleans Saint, after the play was over, in the playoff game last week? A ref was standing right next to them and didn't even throw a flag.
$765 million is a joke of an award to the players who have been injured, but the NFL held the cards. The league has pots of money, and the players and their families are desperate for financial help to deal with their medical bills. The league can wait it out. The players could not. That's how such an unfair "agreement" came about.
Brody is willing to be convinced. Her decision, she said, was based on the fact that she had not been given the evidence showing that the cash award would be sufficient to accommodate all the players. It's about time someone made the NFL account for its pathetic offer.