A federal judge announced a settlement Thursday between the NFL and 4,500+ retired players bringing suit for the NFL's cover-up of crucial data on the health risks of football, forcing the league to pay out approximately $765,000,000. The $765 million figure is to be distributed over a 20-year span. While the settlement seems like it could be characterized as a step in the right direction, both the amount of the compensation and the lack of an admission of guilt on the league's part make for a very weak settlement and undermine any significant attempt at addressing an increasingly important problem.
Here's what the settlement really means. As Bill Barnwell of Grantland notes, the league has decided to set aside a meager $10 million for both education and research. About a year ago, the league announced that it had pledged $30 million to the National Institutes of Health for medical research on head injuries related to football, an amount three times greater than the settlement award. The league also apportioned $75 million for baseline testing (assessing the validity of the neurological issues laid claim by the former players), and the remaining $675 million is to go to the players and families involved in the suit. These baseline tests will go a long way in determining the amount of money awarded to players affected by various neurological issues.
What's also important about this settlement is that the players and their families are not receiving this money up front. The $675 million is to be distributed to players over a 20-year span. To put this in context, the NFL brought in around $10 billion in revenue last year. If we assume that this revenue total remains consistent over the next 20 years (a very conservative assumption at best), the $675 million figure being distributed to the players through this settlement amounts to .34% of the NFL's total projected revenue over this period. This settlement sum will no doubt set a framework for future suits brought forward by former players. Also, when you take into consideration major reporting outlets like Businessweek recently predicting a multi-billion dollar settlement, it's hard not to think that the league made out like bandits.
Perhaps the best news for the NFL is the mere fact that they do not have to admit they did anything wrong. This is a trend that has manifested itself through powerful sectors of industry such as banking. From an organizational standpoint, this is great news for the NFL. Because an admission of guilt would mean open floodgates and a torrent of lawsuits brought forth by various actors, it was really important for the NFL that this provision be included in the deal. By avoiding such an admission, the NFL can better circumvent major issues its former employees attempt to bring to the table.
The deal as a whole can be characterized as a major win for the league. It gets its all-important no liability clause, and looks to absolve itself of any kind of financial volatility into the future.