The NFL dodges on brain injuries

It sounds like a lot of money: Under the terms of the deal, former players will receive up to $3 million for a dementia diagnosis; $3.5 million for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease; $4 million for death with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE); and $5 million for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

But those amounts are maximums. The actual awards are subject to a series of reductions and offsets. Former players with fewer than five credited years of NFL experience will see their awards reduced, some by more than half. The same holds true for retirees over age 45—the older players are when diagnosed with one of the above diseases, the less money they’ll receive. And all of that comes before legal fees. Earlier this year, ESPN’s Lester Munson calculated that a player who faced dementia after age 60 might end up collecting around $375,000 after costs.

Other loopholes and reductions verge on absurd. While the settlement forbids former NFL Europe players from suing the league, it does not credit their overseas seasons toward award calculations—never mind that getting hit in the head wearing a London Monarchs helmet is biologically the same as getting hit in the head while playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Similarly, retirees who have suffered a single non-football-related traumatic brain injury or stroke will have their awards reduced by 75 percent, even though there’s no scientific reason to assume that a concussion sustained in a post-career car crash would account for three-quarters of a former player’s cognitive or neurobehavioral impairment, and even though NFL team doctors may have increased many former players’ risk of stroke by administering the painkilling drug Toradol in a manner contrary to Food and Drug Administration warning label guidelines for roughly two decades.