A widow reacts to the league's concussion settlement
The morning after I learned the NFL had agreed to pay a $765 million settlement of concussion-related lawsuits, I dialed into a conference call with my lawyers and other plaintiffs to learn the specifics. What I heard on the other end of the call reinforced what I already knew: Settling our lawsuit with the league was the best outcome. It wasn't the lawyers spelling out the details that reinforced my relief; it was the fragile voices of once mighty men on the other end of the call, unwittingly asking the same questions over and over and over again.
My late husband, Ray, a safety with the Falcons in the 1970s, used to ask me the same questions over and over and over again. For nearly 20 years we suffered, not knowing how or why my once loving, smart and prayerful husband seemed increasingly confused, depressed and downright mean. It wasn't until an Internet search in 2010 when I found a report suggesting a link between Ray's symptoms and his football career that I began to understand what doctors would later identify as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). A year later Ray became the lead plaintiff in the first lawsuit against the NFL alleging that the league had hidden the dangers of concussions from players. But Ray wouldn't live to see the settlement. On April 19, 2012, a few days after getting lost in our hometown again, Ray shot himself (SI, Sept. 10, 2012).
When we sued the NFL, our goal was to force the league to set up a medical monitoring program for former players. Like many NFL retirees, we couldn't afford health insurance. Our church paid for the test confirming Ray's dementia, but many players don't have that support. They just live with not knowing what's causing their pain. The key part of last week's agreement provides clear access to medical care and testing independent of the NFL and its doctors.
People will grumble that $765 million isn't enough for a league with more than $9 billion in annual revenue. Sure, we could have held out for billions, but at what price? Would that victory have come five years down the road when a thousand more players would have shown symptoms of dementia and had no way of getting medical help? For many of us, this lawsuit was never about getting rich; it was about getting help. Those who joined the lawsuit without suffering symptoms will be provided for only if they do display symptoms down the road.
The quick settlement means that afflicted players will receive help sooner rather than later. It means players like former Eagles fullback Kevin Turner, now suffering from ALS (which was also covered in the settlement) at age 44, won't have to live hand to mouth. It means one of the NFL wives I've befriended will be able to hire the help she needs on the two days per week she can't make it to the nursing home to make sure her husband is bathed and groomed. It also means—no matter what the lawyers say—that the NFL tacitly agrees that something was amiss in their handling of concussions.
I worry that those who think the settlement isn't enough will appeal and delay benefits for players who can't afford to wait. There's no price I could ever put on my pain, but we can assign dollar signs to doctors' visits and brain scans. Do we really want to put off relief for our football brethren? To me, that's a question we shouldn't have to ask more than once.
The settlement means that one of the wives I've befriended will be able to hire the help she needs to make sure her husband is bathed and groomed when she can't make it to the nursing home.
BILL FRAKES/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED