About 10,000 retired NFL players have signed up to receive benefits under the historic $1 billion settlement with the league over concussion-related injuries.
Since the registration period opened more than a month ago on Feb. 6, nearly half of the roughly 20,000 former football players eligible to register on the settlement site have signed up. While the numbers are off to a promising start, some expected a greater turnout at this point.
“I find it interesting that only 50 percent have registered,” Pittsburgh attorney Jason Luckasevic told the Tribune-Review. “That tells you that a lot of guys are apathetic or unable to realize that they need to do something.”
Eligible players, which include all football players who retied from the NFL or related leagues before July 7, 2014, must sign up before the Aug. 7 deadline to receive benefits agreed upon.
According to Luckasevic, whose clients include former running back Tony Dorsett, late Steelers center Mike Webster and others, settlement checks could be issued to certain players as soon as this summer.
The settlement resolved a long and highly publicized battle between players and the NFL over claims that the league knew that repeated head traumas could lead to a host of neurocognitive diseases for years but did not make player safety a priority.
Instead of taking the mounting lawsuits to court where the league may have had to reveal what it knew, the NFL came to an agreement in which the league admitted no fault. In return, the league agreed to a settlement that will pay awards of up to $5 million for the most severe degenerative brain diseases like Lou Gehrig’s disease or chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Officials within the league have estimated that as many as 6,000 former players may be eligible to receive financial compensation for qualifying diseases like moderate dementia. Although the payout range will vary by disease, the average payout is expected to be about $190,000 for those players, bringing the overall cost of the settlement over the billion dollar mark.
NFL Players Reminded to Enroll When Registration Opened
When the registration period opened in early February, the court held an uncharacteristic conference in conjunction with lawyers and league representatives to encourage former football players to enroll before the deadline. The event was streamed on the settlement site to reach as many players as possible.
U.S. District Judge Anita Brody of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, who is now in charge of overseeing the deal, said players must enroll before Aug. 7 to be eligible for benefits.
“My job is to see that justice is done,” Brody said at the February conference, according to the New York Daily News. “Without registering, none of these people will be eligible.”
Even though only players who have suffered from the qualified diseases will receive money, all eligible players who sign up will receive baseline neuropsychological and neurological examinations, even if they seem to be healthy.
Yet some players are not signing up because they do not feel sick, according to attorney Chris Seeger.
“I’ve got a number of recently retired players saying, ‘I’m fine, I don’t need this program,’” Seeger said to Newsworks.
If they develop symptoms later but did not sign up before the August deadline, players will not be able to opt in further down the line.
“It may take 10 or 20 years for the effects to come into play,” said Seeger, the co-lead counsel for the players. “There are guys being diagnosed in their 40s, 50s and 60s with dementia, Alzheimer’s, ALS, Parkinson’s — the compensable injuries in the settlement.”
Some Players Continue to Fight the NFL
The settlement was originally delayed because some players argued that the agreement did not adequately address the symptoms of CTE. As of right now, CTE can only be diagnosed after death, but new technology may make it possible to diagnose the degenerative condition in those who are living.
When the challenge went to the U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit Judge Thomas L. Ambro decided that the settlement should stand because no settlement can satisfy everyone.
“This settlement will provide nearly $1 billion in value to the class of retired players,” Ambro wrote. “It is a testament to the players, researchers, and advocates who have worked to expose the true human costs of a sport so many love. Though not perfect, it is fair.”
While the vast majority of players have chosen to opt into the settlement, a few have opted out to pursue their own lawsuits against the league.
“Some, like Tony Dorsett, are opting out in order to force discovery and a trial against the NFL,” Luckasevic said to the Tribune-Review.