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NFL, former players reach $765 million settlement over concussions

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The National Football League and more than 4,500 retired players, including former Ravens and Baltimore Colts, reached a $765 million settlement Thursday over concussion-related lawsuits.

The settlement comes a week before the NFL kicks off the 2013 season in Denver with a game between the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens and the Broncos.

As one of the litigants, former Ravens safety Bennie Thompson's said he was satisfied, but his enthusiasm was tempered, though, by the reality that this financial settlement represents just 2 percent of the combined value of the 32 NFL teams, an estimated $37.4 billion, according to Forbes.

"It was a good win for the players because now it's settled and guys get something, but the NFL wins even more because they can afford to pay a lot more," Thompson said. "I'm happy about the guys who really need it will get something to help them out with their situations, many of which are really bad and the families of the players who committed suicide like Junior Seau and Dave Duerson. There's guys that are hurting and have a lot of problems."

The settlement, which will compensate players, pay for medical exams and fund research, applies to all retired players and the families of deceased players involved in the concussion lawsuits, including Seau, Duerson and former Philadelphia Eagles safety Andre Waters, who all committed suicide and were later diagnosed with the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, based on autopsies.

Thompson was among the litigants with Baltimore ties, a list that included former Ravens running backs Jamal Lewis and Bam Morris, defensive linemen Michael McCrary, Rob Burnett and Larry Webster, tight end Ben Coates, cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Gary Baxter, offensive linemen Wally Williams and Edwin Mulitalo, safety Will Demps and outside linebacker Adalius Thomas.

Among the retired Colts who sued the NFL: safety Bruce Laird, defensive lineman Joe Ehrmann, quarterbacks Mike Pagel, Jack Trudeau and Mark Herrmann, linebacker Barry Krauss, running backs Lydell Mitchell, Joe Washington, Sam Havrilak and Eric Dickerson, tight end Ken Dilger, center Ray Donaldson and offensive guard Ron Solt.

"As a 12-year veteran and president of an organization for the advocacy for retired players, my reaction is I'm extremely pleased the NFL took the moral high ground and worked within the system to come up with this settlement," Laird said. "I'm extremely happy for the families of the deceased players and the ones now suffering from dementia. I'm taken aback that the NFL denies any wrongdoing and says the plaintiffs' injuries didn't come from playing football. I really feel it's such a hypocritical statement to pay $765 million over a 20-year period, but say there's no liability and football never caused this."

Under the mediation overseen by former U.S. District Judge Layn Phillips, the agreement will now be submitted for approval in federal court in Philadelphia. Attorney fees will have to be approved and won't be deducted from the settlement.

"This is a historic agreement, one that will make sure that former NFL players who need and deserve compensation will receive it, and that will promote safety for players at all levels of football," Phillips said in a written statement.

Some players with serious medical problems could receive as much as $5 million, the limit for players suffering from Alzheimer's disease, Lou Gehrig's disease, Parkinson's disease or other severe cognitive impairments. There is a $4 million limit for families of players diagnosed with CTE after they died, and it is capped at $3 million for players suffering from dementia.

Under the terms of the settlement, it was stipulated that it "cannot be considered, an admission by the NFL of liability, or an admission that plaintiffs' injuries were caused by football."

NFL teams are required to pay $23.9 million apiece over the course of the settlement. Under terms of the agreement, the league has 20 years to finish paying the settlement. Half of that total is required to be paid in the first three years.

A Ravens team spokesman deferred any comment to the NFL, and executive vice president Jeff Pash issued a statement on behalf of the league and commissioner Roger Goodell.

"This agreement lets us help those who need it most and continue our work to make the game safer for current and future players," Pash said. "Commissioner Goodell and every owner gave the legal team the same direction: do the right thing for the game and for the men who played it."

The NFL is also required to spend $10 million on research and education.

Many individual players' settlements will be $170,000.

"If I get $170,000 or whatever, I would be happy," Thompson said. "I didn't expect the players to win that lawsuit at all and really the NFL won the lawsuit because they make billions of dollars per year. You don't want to fight in court for years and years. I still think the NFL got the best of the deal. They've got a lot of money."

Whether it was on social media or interviews, several retired and current players had a shared reaction to the settlement, characterizing it as low considering the NFL is such a lucrative business.

But Willams, the former Ravens lineman, called this settlement "a beginning. I'm happy there's some settlement."

"If I get a $170,000 check, I would be pretty happy," said Williams, the former Ravens lineman. "I don't want to sound like a guy who's not appreciative of the luxury the NFL afforded me. It's all about money, but at least there's something that's been done for the guys who are going to get something that are having issues. There's a benefit to this."

Former Colts running back Mitchell, 64, played nine seasons in the NFL and said he sustained one concussion during his six years with the Colts.

"It's good news, I guess," Mitchell said. "I'm encouraged but I won't know what it all means until someone explains it to me. There's a lot of gray area here. What if you don't have dementia yet but you get it down the road. Why should we have to wait to get to that stage before we can enjoy the fruits of this?

"We all played the game and we all took hits that jumble the brain. We came off the field woozy, used smelling salts, got the cobwebs out and returned to the game. All of us have something affecting us from all those hits — I'm forgetful sometimes — so why shouldn't everybody get a piece of the apple while we can enjoy it?"

Williams said he can't recall experiencing any specific concussions during his playing days, but recalled getting shaken up on many occasions and remaining in the game.

The lawsuits alleged that the NFL hasn't been forthcoming about the risk of suffering concussions.

"I was brought up old school," Williams said. "I come from the generation where if I got my bell rung, you just got your bell rung, throw some water on your face and keep playing. I'm sure I've had many concussions, but was just never really diagnosed or knocked unconscious."

Sylvia Mackey is the widow of Colts Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey, who died in 2011 of frontotemporal dementia at age 69. She's also an advocate for former players dealing with neurological problems and spurred creation of the 88 Plan in 2006 to provide up to $88,000 a year to help former players suffering from Alzheimer's or dementia. The 88 Plan, which was named after Mackey's jersey number, is run jointly by the NFL and the NFL Players Association.

"I'm elated," Mackey said. "I thought it would drag on forever, but it seems the NFL has finally decided to get on top of things. Even though it seems the NFL doesn't want to admit the faults of the past, they do want to move on and address the issue.

"So many former players are in such need. I wouldn't call this 'shut-up money,' but somebody else might. Let's call it 'calm-down-money-and-we're-working-on it.'"

awilson@baltsun.com

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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