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 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT