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Goodell says concussion settlement 'great' for both sides

The NFL's $765 million settlement with former players who claimed damages from head trauma was "great" for the league and the plaintiffs, said commissioner Roger Goodell during an appearance Wednesday at Under Armour's Baltimore headquarters.

"I don't know how it's going to be remembered," Goodell said of the settlement, reached last week with 4,500 former players and their families. "I know what its effect is going to be, which is going to be to provide help for the players and their families that have cognitive issues. There's a fund of $765 million that's there for players and their families that need it, and that's a good thing. Rather than litigating for years, the owners and the NFL and frankly the plaintiffs all said let's go do something that's great for the game and great for the people and get the help to the people who need it."

Goodell also spoke optimistically about rule and equipment changes that he said will continue to make football safer.

"The equipment is better," the commissioner said. "We have taken techniques out that are dangerous and that can lead to injury. People are teaching the game more efficiently and more intelligently. I really believe the awareness that's taking place, there's never been a better time to play the game of football or to be a fan of the game of football. I couldn't be more optimistic about the future of the game of football."

Goodell was in Baltimore to promote the Head Health Challenge II, which pairs the league with Under Armour and General Electric in a $10 million effort to fund innovation in treatment, equipment and training for youth players.

The initiative, which will provide seed money to those with new ideas related to head protection, is another piece in the NFL's attempt to improve its public response to the concussion issue. Goodell said the first phase of the health challenge attracted 400 ideas from more than 100 countries.

These ideas will "change the way we diagnose concussions not just in football, not just in sports, but in the military and beyond that," Goodell said. "This is a worldwide issue, not just a football issue. But we accept the mantle of responsibility, and we're going to change the way people play sports and the way people live."

Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank said his company will work to convert the ideas into tangible products that can help players. "Our job is to make sure the solutions we come up with make it out there on the field," said Plank, who played football at the University of Maryland.

Retired players accused the NFL of suppressing information on head trauma and allowing them to compete without knowing the long-term risks.

Given the number of players seeking damages and the likelihood of embarrassing information surfacing during a trial, many legal experts said $765 million was a modest price for the league to pay to move past the lawsuit.

The settlement did not require the league to admit culpability for head trauma to former players, a point Goodell emphasized Wednesday during an appearance on "CBS This Morning."

Under the settlement, reached after months of mediation, the NFL will distribute $675 million to former players and their families and devote another $90 million to baseline medical exams, research and education programs.

Former NFL and University of Maryland quarterback Boomer Esiason was a panelist at the Wednesday event and praised Goodell for "shining a light" on the concussion issue.

"I'm a big fan of Roger Goodell," said Esiason, who suffered four diagnosed concussions. "I think he has the best interests of the players and the owners at heart."

Also at the event were a number of youth and high school players from Baltimore. Goodell spoke to them directly at times, touting the league-funded "Heads Up" initiative to teach safer technique.

"It's allowing kids to learn the proper techniques," he said afterward. "When they learn how to do that, they're going to enjoy the game more, and they're going to be safer at the same time. I think this is getting back to fundamentals."

childs.walker@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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