Thursday, August 29, 2013


The NFL just settled the concussion lawsuits filed by over 4,500 former players.

This is standard strategy for a large corporation. Deny, deny, deny, then settle before the discovery process begins, and if there was one thing the NFL wanted to avoid in this case, it was the discovery phase.

If you're not familiar with the discovery process, here's a brief Wikipedia explanation:
In U.S. law, discovery is the pre-trial phase in a lawsuit in which each party, through the law of civil procedure, can obtain evidence from the opposing party by means of discovery devices including requests for answers to interrogatories, requests for production of documents, requests for admissions and depositions. Discovery can be obtained from non-parties using subpoenas. When discovery requests are objected to, the requesting party may seek the assistance of the court by filing a motion to compel discovery.

The NFL is a closed book, and opening themselves up to this kind of inquiry would be a disaster for them in a business sense. So, like I said, deny, deny, deny, then settle.

Here are some details on the settlement, which isn't trivial:
The NFL and more than 4,500 former players want to resolve concussion-related lawsuits with a $765 million settlement that would fund medical exams, concussion-related compensation and medical research, a federal judge said Thursday.

Many former players with neurological conditions believe their problems stem from on-field concussions. The lawsuits accused the league of hiding known risks of concussions for decades to return players to games and protect its image.

Of the settlement, $675 million will go directly to the former players and their families, $75 million to medical exams, and the rest for research. The money will be paid in installments over 20 years, with half coming in the first three years. Because this is a consolidation and not a class action suit, not all players will receive the same amount of money—it will be distributed on a case-by-case basis.

How concerned was the NFL about a lawsuit that "accused the league of hiding known risks of concussion for decades"? Concerned enough that they paid out nearly a billion dollars. The NFL doesn't want anyone to see how the sausage is made.

If anything, this is probably worse than even the players believe. There are long term physical risks that are beyond mitigation, and they're never going anyway. So the NFL hasn't solved anything--they've just pushed it into the future. The best the NFL can hope for is that a combination of rule changes and technological advancements make this more of an acceptable risk instead of a potentially nightmarish one.

In terms of technological advancements, Leonardo Herrera sent me a link today about a possible advance in helmet technology. Interestingly, though, the inventor isn't making some grandiose, outsized claim about the benefits. Here's the article: UCLA Engineer and Bruin Football Fan Develops Polymer to Prevent Concussions. In brief, it's a special polymer that (in a 2 millimeter strip inside the helmet) that supposedly can reduce the G-forces experienced experienced by the brain by 25 percent.

That's going to be the most successful strategy in the future, to reduce risk incrementally. There's not going to be a magic bullet to solve this and make it all go away.

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