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Removing $765 Million Ceiling, NFL And Players Settle A Second Time


It was settled. Then it wasn't. And now it looks like the NFL concussion lawsuit may be settled once again. The league has agreed to remove the $765 million total cap on payouts. That number was originally agreed to as part of a settlement with retired players who suffered from neurocognitive conditions, such as dementia linked to concussions. But in January, the federal judge said she doubted that would be enough to cover the medical expenses of possibly 20,000 players. So now the NFL's monetary commitment will be open-ended. For more, we called on Steve Fainaru, a reporter for ESPN and co-author of the book "League Of Denial: The NFL, Concussions, And The Battle For Truth." He says there are still a lot of questions about how this will play out.

STEVE FAINARU: I think it's a really interesting issue because the science around this is really very much in its infancy, and I don't think we really know how many players would actually qualify - have these kinds of conditions that would enable them to qualify for some of these benefits, which in some cases are actually quite high.

BLOCK: Steve, who is not covered by the settlement?

FAINARU: Well, all current players are not covered. So anybody who's playing in the NFL now and has not retired by the time that the settlement is approved are not covered.

BLOCK: Well, uncapping the payout does seem to be a pretty big concession by the NFL. What did it get from the players in return for that?

FAINARU: Well, one of the issues now is that there was previously a cap on the number of challenges that the NFL could make around claims. Now that cap has been lifted. The real issue for the league has been to try to take this issue off the table. It's obviously something that's created an enormous amount of problems for the league, from a public relations standpoint and also among the players themselves. The NFL all along has been trying to put this issue to rest if they can and if it's approved, would go a long way toward doing that.

BLOCK: If I understand this deal right, Steve, under the terms of this agreement, the NFL does not admit any fault.

FAINARU: Right. And that's been the case all along. And really that also is a major win for the NFL. By settling the case, they have prevented any possibility that the NFL would be subject to discovery, where they would be subject to deposition testimony among their officials, opening up their documents and really having to explore the issue of why the league, for a period of two decades, denied through their own medical committee, that football players get brain challenge, that football can cause brain damage. That was the league's policy for up until about 2009, 2010, and that's what this case is all about, that the league concealed this problem from the players - allegedly concealed it from the players and their fans. And so by settling now, they end the possibility of really having to explore that issue in court, which would be - I think many people believe, highly embarrassing for the NFL.

BLOCK: And that broader discovery is what some players really, really wanted, right?

FAINARU: Yeah, and I think that's one question that I think some people will be asking is, if people still want to see that, will they continue to litigate because that's the primary issue that they're wanting to explore. And I do think that there will be some people who still want to do that. And I think the question is, how many and, you know, what form does it take? You know, even after the settlement was announced, there's been a spate of litigation around this issue at the state and federal level. It's not clear at this point, I think, what's going to happen to some of those cases. It's not clear yet that the NFL is really out of the woods legally on this issue.

BLOCK: I've been talking with Steve Fainaru, a reporter for ESPN and co-author of the book "League Of Denial: The NFL, Concussions, And The Battle For Truth." Steve Fainaru, thanks so much.

FAINARU: Thank you.


This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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