BOSTON — The National Football League has agreed to a $765 million settlement deal with thousands of former players who sued the league, accusing it of hiding the dangers of brain injury while profiting from the sport’s violence.
The league agreed to fund medical exams, concussion-related compensation and a program of medical research as well as to cover some legal expenses, according to a filing in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on Thursday.
The settlement is something of a win for the league, which observers estimated generates annual revenue as high as $10 billion.
“It would certainly seem to be fair financial terms to the NFL as an enterprise, especially given how difficult this lawsuit has been from a PR and perception viewpoint on both the NFL and the sport of football,” said Robert Boland, professor of sports management at New York University. “This is a very positive end for the NFL.”
More than 4,500 players had accused the league of glorifying football’s ferocity while concealing the risks of concussions and long-term brain damage as a result of repeated hits to the head.
U.S. District Judge Anita Brody in July had ordered both sides to meet with mediator Layn Phillips, a retired federal judge, in an effort to settle the dispute.
“This is a historic agreement, one that will make sure that former NFL players who need and deserve compensation will receive it, and that will promote safety for players at all levels of football,” Phillips said.
The settlement is still subject to the approval of Judge Brody as well as the retired players that brought it. When finalized it will be binding on all players who have retired from the league.
“The benefits in this agreement will make a difference not only for me and my family, but also for thousands of my football brothers who either need help today or may need help someday in the future,” said Kevin Turner, a former running back for the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots who served as lead plaintiff.
A blanket settlement - with some of the money to be paid out over more than a decade - also helps the league by reducing risk of a large jury award.
“It’s far better than the alternative … a constant drip, drip, drip of the NFL looking like they’re strong-arming their former players,” said David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California.
The league had said it disclosed the information it had regarding research into brain trauma. It had previously argued that the lawsuit was inappropriate because the issue of player safety is governed by the collective bargaining agreements negotiated between the league and the players’ union.
The NFL admitted no wrongdoing in agreeing to the settlement.