“Though not perfect, it is fair.”
Thus spoke the three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday. The issue at hand was the settlement the National Football League had made with thousands of former players: a settlement that will pay those players as much as $1 billion over the next 65 years.
A billion dollars is a lot of money, even for a business that takes in more than $12 billion each year. But $1 billion spread over 65 years and parceled out to thousands of men suffering from work-related Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, and various levels of “neurocognitive impairment” is not enough. Include money to be paid to the surviving family members of the men who’ve already died as a result of those diseases or chronic traumatic encephalopathy and the injustice is more apparent. The NFL’s accountants can write off the money as the acceptable cost of doing business.
And as far as responsibility or liability is concerned, the money is the whole story. The message is “Take it and go away.”
As far as responsibility or liability is concerned, the money is the whole story. The message is “Take it and go away.”
The players appealing the settlement made the case that the NFL, its spokespeople, and doctors employed by the league and the individual teams had combined to create “a disinformation campaign that disseminated junk science” rather than acknowledge that the day-to-day business of the NFL was diminishing the lives of its employees. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals didn’t dispute that contention. The panel of judges merely said they didn’t want to make the perfect the enemy of the good.
The rationale for that contention is that some of the players and the families caring for them now and over the next half century or so will get some help. They certainly need it.
But by agreeing to pay the players and their families, the league has avoided publicity potentially much worse than what it has already experienced: testimony demonstrating that the pro football establishment knew it was endangering the players and hid that knowledge. Though the NFL has recently celebrated itself for changing some of pro football’s rules and procedures, thereby perhaps limiting some of the most spectacularly hideous consequences of the game’s risks and collisions, it was only last month that a senior league official acknowledged for the first time that pro football and degenerative brain disease are linked. By then, nobody was shocked by that acknowledgement. The only surprise was that after more than two decades of denial, a league official had finally surrendered.
No committee and no individual will be held responsible for the damage done. That’s what the NFL will spend a billion dollars to buy.