The important thing you need to know about the NFL’s concussion settlement is the following phrase:
There is no admission of liability. There is also no escaping it, but that's for another day.
Of course there isn’t. The NFL just tossed $765 million in the air and to the feet of thousands of former players who gave parts of their brains to the game they played because otherwise the money would have simply sat on a coffee table collecting dust.
[RELATED: NFL, players to settle concussion lawsuits]
So let’s start with this: The NFL put off the day of reckoning, but only for awhile., and only with those players who chose to remain in the class action suit. There are still plenty who have decided or are going to decide to opt out of the settlement, and they won’t be going away so easily.
And let’s end with this: The NFL's ability to sweep things under expensive Persian rugs is well known and much admired by other corporate and political entities (say, like the North Korean leadership), but the biggest problem the league has in the longer term – after most of the present owners are safely deceased – is in the legion of parents who know a lot more about brain injury and football going back to grammar school age, and the army of insurance companies which will stop providing coverage for the football programs that keep the engines churning.
$765 million is indeed a great deal of money to the NFL . . . right up until you get to the point where you see that it is still $60 million less than the current valuation of the Oakland Raiders, which is only going to rise and may be near a billion if Mark Davis decides to sell to someone who can put the team in Los Angeles.
And the settlement will be used, we can only presume, to blunt the Frontline show on football and concussions the league muscled ESPN to opt out of itself.
The settlement really shows, though, that the NFL’s real gift is not for solving problems (and let’s be fair, this one isn’t for solving in any way) but for marginalizing and delaying the true cost of them. CTE does not recognize a checkbook, or a legal document, and Junior Seau is still just as dead as he was the day he committed suicide. And the only compelling argument anyone has put up for defending football’s safety is, “Well, they knew the risks,” and that is rather well undercut by the settlement, which while you might read it as kindness from the NFL is actually a desire to make people stop talking about it for a few months.
The NFL is in a tough position here, given that football itself is on public trial and not just the professional game. But the NFL has the most money and the biggest bullhorn. But Roger Goodell can’t throw up his hands and say, “We’re only responsible for us” and still expect to be taken seriously by parents who are only now beginning to wrestle with the notion that football might not be the ideal use of a child’s head. He has to become the spokesman for the game in all its permutations, and unless he knows more about the human brain than he has let on, he is standing on the rickety end of the dock.
So the NFL has committed to pay out $765 million. The bill, though, is not yet paid, and this barely covers escrow on what is to come. By then, though, most of the people who signed off on this deal will have moved on, and shuffled the issue to their successors.
Now there’s an American concept for you.