The U.S. National Football League has agreed to a $765 million settlement with thousands of former players who sued the league for negligence involving concussion injuries.
In a landmark deal announced Thursday, the NFL agreed to provide medical benefits and injury compensation for retired players or their families. The league also agreed to fund medical and safety research, and cover legal expenses.
More than 4,500 former players had sued the NFL for allegedly hiding the risks of concussions while profiting from the sport's violence.
The court-appointed mediator in the case -- retired federal judge Layn Phillips -- called the agreement "historic." He said it will promote safety for players at all levels of American-style football.
Sol Weiss, the plaintiffs' co-lead lawyer, said the settlement allows the injured players to get the money they deserve.
“What this settlement did today and what this litigation has done since it started was to make America aware of the serious nature of these injuries in sports," Weiss said. "I think a lot of sports are a lot safer now because of this litigation."
Some of the plaintiffs in the case claim to be suffering from dementia, depression or other brain-related injuries. They blame the injuries on the long-term effects of blows to the head during games.
Dexter Manley is a former NFL player who has had two brain surgeries in the last seven years. He praised the league's team owners for agreeing to the settlement, which averts a lengthy litigation process.
"I think it’s all about integrity, and the owners have definitely demonstrated they have integrity," Manley said. "I think it’s good for football because if you kind of keep letting this case go on and on, I think it sort of damages football. But now it's out of the way. It’s good for the players, too, who have some issues such as myself.”
The NFL admitted no liability in the settlement. But Weiss said the case was not about that. The goal, as he saw it, was to bring to light that players can suffer long-term neurological effects if teams allow them to continue playing before they recover from head injuries.
"Look, a lot of the players understood it’s a violent game, and if you’re going to get your bones broken that’s part of the game," Weiss said. "They didn’t realize that they were going to become demented, develop early Alzheimer’s, get ALS [Lou Gehrig's disease] or Parkinson’s disease from playing football. That’s a whole different issue, and that’s what the case focused on.”
The settlement must be approved by U.S. district judge Anita Brody, who ordered the league and former players to resolve the dispute.
In recent years, the NFL has instituted rule changes designed to eliminate hits to the head and neck, and to protect defenseless players. The league also is working to prevent athletes who have had concussions from playing or practicing until they are fully recovered.