When its regular season kicks off Thursday night, the National Football League will have 765 million new reasons to take head injuries seriously.
That’s the amount of dollars the league has agreed to pay to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by 4,500 retired players, living and dead. The players asserted that until 2010, the NFL did not properly warn them about how concussions could affect their brains in the long term, and didn’t regulate the sport in ways that would have minimized the damage.
The NFL maintained that it did not deliberately mislead players, and said it had relied on the most up-to-date medical information. Still, its decision last week to settle the lawsuit was the right call.
It is unsatisfying that the league won’t have to provide detailed information about its prior practices, and $765 million may be too low. But there are benefits to resolving the case without a trial.
Resolution will come more quickly, which should expedite payments that former players need to obtain appropriate medical care. The settlement also eliminates uncertainty over the eventual outcome of the litigation.
In addition, the agreement with the NFL means that players won’t have the individual burden of proving that the head injuries they suffered in the league were responsible for their health issues. Instead, their compensation will be based on the age of the players and the number of years they played.
No current NFL players are included in the settlement, which must be approved by a federal judge. But increased attention to the medical problems caused by repeated concussions benefits everyone who plays football, from youth leagues through the NFL.
Professional football always will hold the potential for peril — an inevitable consequence of large, strong men plowing into each other on a hard surface. But debilitating outcomes for players need not be a given.
Increased vigilance on the part of NFL officials, owners, and players is vital. The legal settlement is just one play in this long-term game plan.
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