The NFL has always been tremendously entertaining, though it appears to have gotten softer overtime. Certainly, playing professional football is no easy task, and the players are well aware of the risks they are taking when they step on that field.  However, things have changed since 2012.  In 2012, a group of retired NFL players sued the NFL due the ongoing trauma as a result of their infliction with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (“CTE”), which is caused by repeated skeletal impact and brain injuries, with the most common being concussions. The fact of the matter is there are a lot more flags being thrown for penalties for even the slightest of physical contact nowadays, in order to protect the players from getting hurt. Both fans and non-fans of the game love seeing the players aggressively beat the crap out of each other on the gridiron, as if they were watching a mixed martial arts event. Unfortunately, those voracious and brutal hits lead to some major injuries.  Most of the time, aggressive play will lead to concussions.  Regardless ,this is a major concern to the NFL. The NFL is not the same anymore. Just as the world and societal norms change, the NFL changes today too.

The NFL of old would have never thrown this many flags like the NFL of today. Several players would be seen walking off the field with blood stains on their uniforms and broken fingers and still would be playing every down. Some examples would be Troy Polamalu, or Dick Butkus, and even more recently Aaron Donald, who currently trains with knives to perfect his elusiveness along the defensive line. Aaron Donald would probably eat 3 people and run through a brick wall to tackle the quarterback, which makes him an outlier to be honest.

The NFL today would make you change your jersey if there was a blood stain on it and force you to leave the game for a little bit.  The  same thing happens when a player collides with another—the player who was hit and taken to the ground, would gingerly get up and get back to the game—however the officials would immediately pull the player off the field to check for a concussion or any other physical damage. A similar scenario would be when an offensive lineman and defensive lineman are going at it at the line of scrimmage, the quarterback throws the ball while they are fighting on the line, after the ball is thrown and the defensive player hits the quarterback ever so slightly, and he flops on the floor like a dramatic soccer player; what happens next is that every referee in the stadium throws their flag against the defense in order to protect the quarterback, even though it’s clear that the quarterback flopped in a dramatic fashion—similar to how Lebron James flops almost every night.

The NFL aims to protect its players, which is why they try to strictly enforce penalties against those hits, regardless if the hit comes from a player flopping on the ground, or more vicious hits like we were all used to see pre-lawsuit.  Nowadays, you would see some hefty fines from both sets of hits. Per, the current fine for “roughing the passer,” which means an excessive and/or unnecessary hit on the quarterback, is $15,000 for your first offense; second offense is a fine of $20,000 and your third offense could lead to possible suspension from the league. This has transitioned the NFL to head into a more protective-touchdown-happy style like game, where the game emphasizes speed, touchdowns, and how creatively you intertwine those two. This form of the NFL has come about since the settlement of In re: National Football League Players’ Concussion Injury Litigation No. 2:12-md-02323 (E.D. Pa.).

A group of retired NFL Players collectively sued the National Football League and NFL Properties LLC (“NFL Parties”), in 2011, claiming that the retired players received head trauma or injuries during their NFL Football careers, which allegedly have caused, or may cause, them long-term neurological problems. They accused the NFL Parties of being aware of the evidence and the risks associated with repetitive traumatic brain injuries but failing to warn and protect players against those long-term risks and ignoring and concealing this information from players. The NFL Parties denied these claims. Naturally, it was argued before a Court, and after some aggressive litigation, at least some of the parties were able to reach  a settlement.

The settlement, with all appeals included, had an effective date of January 7, 2017 and allocated up to $1 billion in settlement money to pay retired players who fall under necessary requirements according to the settlement. From the benefits included the following:

The Baseline Assessment Program, which provides baseline neuropsychological and neurological examinations for eligible Retired NFL Football Players and additional medical testing, counseling, and/or treatment if they are diagnosed with moderate cognitive impairment during their baseline examinations (every qualified Retired NFL Football Player will be eligible to receive one free baseline assessment examination during the term of the Settlement Program);

Monetary Awards for diagnoses of Death with CTE before April 22, 2015 (the Final Approval Date), ALS, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, Level 2 Neurocognitive Impairment (moderate Dementia) and Level 1.5 Neurocognitive Impairment (early Dementia) and Derivative Claimant Awards for people who assert a right to recover based on their relationships with Players who receive Qualifying Diagnoses. All valid claims under the Settlement, without limitation, will be paid in full throughout the 65-year life of the Settlement Program; and

Education programs promoting safety and injury prevention with respect to football players, including safety-related initiatives in youth football, the education of Retired NFL Football Players regarding the NFL’s medical and disability programs and other educational programs and initiatives.

The Baseline Assessment Program and claims process for Monetary Awards are administered independently of the NFL Parties and any benefit programs that have been created between the NFL and the NFL Players Association.”

While everyone was focused and remembers the part of this case that was settled, what most people don’t  know is that although the settlement was highlighted,  it really was not completely resolved, and there was a group of players who continued to fight.  At first, the original settlement, which was set at $765 million was rejected by the Court, holding that the capped funds for paying claims would be insufficient. The parties thereafter reached a revised settlement that uncapped the fund for compensating retired players.

While the District Court approved the revised settlement, at the Fairness Hearing, there were several groups who were not happy about the revised settlement. One of these unhappy groups was composed of 7 former NFL Players, known as the “Faneca Objectors.” The Faneca Objectors and others renewed their objections to the settlement, complaining about other purported defects in the settlement, and after another day-long fairness hearing, they reached an approved settlement which consisted of funds and a reimbursement of their Legal Fees.

In addition to benefits to the class, the settlement required Defendants to pay class counsel reasonable fees and costs up to $112.5 million.  This was the next round of fights as a hearing was held on how to allocate the proceeds. The Court ruled on 2 items here: (1) if it was proper to permit the assigned Class Counsel to make the recommendation, believing he may have allocated too much to the attorneys; and (2) the court did not provide an explanation how they came up with the numbers for the Faneca Objectors.

Ultimately the allocation was approved and the Faneca Objectors got their numbers.

It remains to be seen if something similar to this will come up again in the world of the NFL even with the settlement in place. Certainly, there is potential for similar sorts of suits in other industries and professional leagues. Here at Miletti Law, we are all about the players, looking out for their health, their best interest, and getting them the money they deserve.  Even the retired players, who dedicated their lives to the sport as well as to keep the fans happy, who had already made their money already in the league, still deserve protection.  Surely, we will see if they do get that protection. Protection of the players is vital to both the individual player and the sport itself.  Miletti Law is always looking out for the players. We strive to level the playing field for the individual player who is negotiating against the institution.  There is a fine line between keeping the crowd entertained with intense play on the field and keeping the players on the field to a point where it is detrimental to their health.  We will do the utmost we can to ensure those players who gave up their lives and health for the sport they love, will get a little more out of the league than concussions, traumatic brain and skeletal injuries, and long term degenerative issues.  Rather, we want them to get the continued value they earned over their years, which is the least we can do as we expect them to savagely maul each other on the field, in a  vicious sport we all love to watch.

Always Stay Unusually Motivated and keep crafting your knack!