Skip to main content

NFL concussion settlement raises questions

By LaMar C. Campbell, Special to CNN
updated 6:45 AM EDT, Mon September 9, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The NFL and former players reached a $765 million settlement over concussion issues
  • LaMar Campbell: I believe the NFL would not have settled with the admission of any liability
  • He says by not going to trial, the NFL does not have to have answer many critical questions
  • Campbell: The current settlement has flaws; we need to ask NFL to reveal more information

Editor's note: LaMar C. Campbell, a former defensive back for the Detroit Lions, is a real estate broker, a radio talk show host and director of media relations for the Atlanta chapter of the National Football League Players Association. He is one of the players who sued the NFL.

(CNN) -- After years of defiantly denying that it was aware of any links between football and brain injuries, the NFL reached a surprising settlement with 4,500 former players who sued the organization over concussion-related issues to the tune of $765 million.

If this settlement is approved as is, the NFL will have "no admissions of liability or weakness claims."

I recall that former Chicago Bears defensive back (and my former colleague at Voice America Sports) David Duerson's last text message to his family, asking to have his brain examined right before killing himself with a shotgun to the chest.

LaMar Campbell
LaMar Campbell

I also remember Philadelphia Eagles safety Andre Waters asking me, "How do I feel?" in a conversation we had, when I mentioned I based my playing style on his. Years later, Waters committed suicide with a gunshot to the head.

They didn't get any help.

The good news is that this settlement will put most of the $675 million in the hands of my NFL brethren and their families who need it the most. This would include $4 million for those diagnosed after their deaths with a brain condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, $5 million for men diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and $3 million for players diagnosed with dementia.

The NFL will also pay up to $75 million to fund baseline medical exams for the players and will spend $10 million on new research into concussion care. Half of the $765 million will be paid in the first three years. The second half will be paid out over 17 years.

League, ex-players reach a deal
Explain it to me: Concussions

This is in part what players wanted -- to financially provide for the worst-off diagnosed players named in the lawsuit as well as providing for all current retired players, regardless of whether they joined the lawsuit or not.

I always believed that the lawsuit would eventually end in a settlement. But in light of last year's revenue for the NFL -- $9.5 billion -- I'm concerned about the other terms of the settlement.

The core of the concussion lawsuit contends that the "the NFL was aware of the evidence and risks associated with traumatic brain injuries for many decades, but deliberately ignored and actively concealed the information from players."

I believe the NFL more than likely would not have settled with the admission of any liability. By not going to trial, the league does not have to face the discovery and deposition process and therefore leaves many questions unanswered.

If this had gone to trial, the NFL would have opened itself up to an extended run of bad PR, potentially billions of dollars in damages, and would have been forced to hand over sensitive internal archives.

The NFL could have been required to produce documents, such as e-mails. E-mails are currently at the center of another lawsuit in which a group of former college players led by Adrian Arrington is seeking class action status, challenging the NCAA's handling of head injuries. The NCAA has until September 13 to respond to the motion to certify the case. However, this lawsuit may also be headed toward a settlement. Just ten days before the NFL settlement was announced, the NCAA agreed to mediation.

All this leaves the important questions unanswered: How dangerous is football? How serious are the head injuries?

Since the initial filing of the concussion lawsuits, the NFL has funded over $100 million on numerous outreach and safety programs. Yet it's ironic that the final settlement only sets $10 million aside for "concussion research."

We will never learn what exactly the NFL had learned about football-related brain injuries and when they knew it. This information could be extremely valuable in future decisions and research on how to treat or prevent concussions. Moreover, this is information parents of our future football players can use to make informed health decisions.

In 1994, then-NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue initiated the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI) committee, which was led by Dr. Elliot Pellman. He was also the team doctor for the New York Jets at the time. Pellman once cleared wide receiver Wayne Chrebet to play after he was knocked unconscious. In 2003, Pellman was the lead author for nine of 16 studies that minimized the significance of concussions.

In 2009, the NFL disbanded the MTBI committee after a series of congressional hearings. While Pellman and the NFL may never have to turn over what they knew, the proposed settlement is still pending with an opt-out option for the players, some of whom will appeal and object to the settlement.

If this happens, the judge will have to seriously consider that four former players have recently sued the NFL and its helmet maker, Riddell. Riddell, which is a defendant in the NFL concussion lawsuit, is not part of the proposed settlement, so that part of the litigation continues.

It is unclear how the NFL settlement will affect future lawsuits due to the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA). In 2011, the NFL added safety rules (like no helmet-to-helmet contact) to the CBA, which make it extremely difficult for players to file lawsuits in the future for injuries they haven't sustained yet because players are now made aware of the risks.

Before approving this settlement, the judge will need to take a serious look at the objections made by many players to the agreement, particularly because they will never know what the NFL knew about concussions. I've already heard from many players who plan to opt out of the current settlement.

On October 8, the PBS "Frontline" documentary, "League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis," will air and hopefully shed some light on what the NFL still hasn't revealed. Hopefully, we will figure out if the settlement is enough.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LaMar C. Campbell.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT