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NFL Concussion Settlement Is A Head-Scratcher


The NFL has not admitted that concussions are a problem, despite a agreeing to a landmark settlement with former players. Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images.
The NFL has not admitted that concussions are a problem, despite a agreeing to a landmark settlement with former players. Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images.

Major media outlets are reporting that the NFL and former players have reached a tentative agreement in the amount of $765 million to settle concussion-related lawsuits that have engulfed the most popular league in American sports. The timing of this settlement is rather fitting as it comes just weeks before the release of “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis,” a documentary focusing on the concussion epidemic in football and whether the NFL knew of this problem but chose to sit idle while the league prospered into a billion dollar industry.

But wait, this story gets better.

The film is produced by “Frontline,” a component of PBS, who worked closely with ESPN for well over a year to create an investigative look into the murky world of concussions that have ravaged former players whose playing days are long gone. The collaboration of Frontline and ESPN came to an abrupt halt late last week when ESPN formally pulled out of any involvement in the documentary over what they deemed to be a misinterpretation of “editorial control” over the film. Apparently, ESPN felt that their mark and logo might lead people to think they had full editorial control over the documentary.

While editorial control may be ESPN’s reason for pulling out of this venture, the film happens to be based on the reporting of ESPN investigative reporters, Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada, co-authors of the book, “League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle For Truth.”

So if I understand this correctly, ESPN is severing their ties to a documentary that their investigative reporters not only worked on, but are largely responsible for the content and direction of the film.

While you are sitting on that for a second, let’s not forget that ESPN and the NFL have a television contract that’s worth more than several countries' gross domestic product. The NY Times published a piece last week claiming that the NFL pressured ESPN to end its involvement with the film after a trailer of the documentary upset executives at the league offices. The league vehemently denies these claims.

So let’s recap. ESPN and PBS collaborate on a revealing piece covering the widespread problems with concussions in the NFL and more importantly, the league’s knowledge of this problem. A little over a month before the film’s release, ESPN pulls out, citing lack of editorial control even though the film is based on the work of their own investigative reporters. The NFL tentatively agrees to dish out hundreds of millions of dollars in a settlement agreement with former NFL players suffering from an array of concussion-related problems. I’m not claiming to be Columbo here, but it sounds like this documentary has the NFL beyond rattled. They allegedly threaten a billion dollar contractual partner then hastily settle with hundreds of former players to the tune of $765 million? Rattled would be an understatement. It sounds like the NFL is downright scared of this documentary.

While the terms of the settlement agreement still have to be approved by a judge, I’m guessing that a major component of the agreement is that the NFL does not in any way admit to any wrongdoing with respect to the lawsuits.

You have to love the contradiction. Huge corporation (NFL) shells out a ton of money to presumably cover damages they allegedly caused. But in doing so, they formally state they did nothing wrong. How is this even acceptable in our legal system?

Memo to the NFL: Your liability concerning the concussion-related problems of former players is obvious. This settlement validates it. If you did nothing wrong and wish to admit no wrongdoing, then why are you paying hundreds of millions of dollars to former players? You are a billion dollar conglomerate whose influence is immeasurable. Admit that your game has unfortunately contributed to an epidemic of foreseeable head trauma that has plagued – and will likely continue to plague – NFL players. We all understand that players assume the risk of playing such a violent game, but take the initiative in educating your players and the general public about the dangers of your game. While there may not be a cure to this problem, continue to work with the medical community to find better ways to protect your players. But please don’t use your influence and top-dollar legal talent to shy away from a problem you helped to create.