NFL Concussion Settlement Enables the League to Move Forward

Jed Hughes@JedhugheskfCorrespondent ISeptember 16, 2013

Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, settled one of the largest lawsuits in American history in the concussion litigation settlement.
Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, settled one of the largest lawsuits in American history in the concussion litigation settlement.Allison Joyce/Getty Images

The NFL settled one of the largest lawsuits in American history when it agreed to pay $765 million in restitution to players who have suffered long-term effects of concussions sustained during their pro careers.  The settlement ends an on-going public relations problem, immediately helps retired players pay for their medical care and helps underwrite research to prevent injuries in the future.

Although $765 million is a substantial payout for the injured parties, it is not a bad deal for the NFL, a league which averages nearly $10 billion in revenue annually.  The money provides $675 million in compensation to former players who have suffered cognitive injuries, $75 million for baseline medical exams, and $10 million for safety and injury prevention research and education.  Half of the payout will be made within three years and the rest of the sum will be made over the course of the following 17 years.  Meanwhile, the NFL's revenues are projected to top $27 billion during the same 20-year time period.

The National Football League Players' Concussion Injury Litigation, filed in January of 2012, totaled over 4,000 plaintiffs, many of whom are suffering mental illnesses resulting from repeated head injuries sustained during their careers.  The lawsuit alleged that the NFL hid evidence that supported the risks associated with repetitive traumatic brain trauma.  As part of the agreement, the league will not have to disclose what it knew about brain problems related to concussions. Plaintiffs had sought details about the NFL's Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee and believed that the league had hidden results of testing for many years.  There is no admission of liability, which likely would have been a stumbling block for the settlement.

Roger Goodell has increasingly made the health and safety of current and former NFL players a priority.  The NFL has launched a number of initiatives including a $100 million player study with Harvard University to study and treat illnesses and injuries suffered by former players.  Goodell also recently announced a program with Under Armour and GE to donate money toward projects that prevent head injuries. He seems to be doing the right things.

Although some plaintiffs were disappointed by the final amount of the settlement, the relatively swift agreement ensured that players would not suffer as lawsuits dragged on for years.  As Commissioner Goodell told the AP, "It's a significant amount of money," even though players had hoped for up to $2 billion in compensation.  Hopefully it will quickly make a difference in the lives of players afflicted with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease that is the result of repetitive head trauma.

Commissioner Goodell's job is to steward the league.  Addressing the concussion issue—and coming to a settlement that seems satisfactory to many stakeholders—was important.  Further, the commissioner reported that he has been working with youth football leagues, with family members and others about how to make the game safer. 

Jed Hughes is Vice Chair of Korn/Ferry and the leader of the executive search firm's Global Sports Practice. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter @jedhughesKF.