They're still drinking champagne over at NFL headquarters right now. There's a behind the scenes event going on that would make a Presidential inauguration seem like a kid's birthday party. The NFL won -- and won big!
In what can only be described as a startling turn of events, the NFL settled their negligence lawsuit with the 4500 former players for $765 million. While the agreement has yet to be approved, it appears that, what everyone expected to be both protracted and costly for the league, ended suddenly and inexpensively. The NFL was able to buy this settlement wholesale.
Ironically, earlier that same day an article appeared in The New York Times speculating that the cost to the league on the low end would be as much as $2.5 billion and, ultimately, might need to be decided by the Supreme Court. Nobody got it right. Within hours of The Times article being published the deal was cut and for far less money.
So what happened? It appears it came down to players needing money now and waiting for an increased payout created too much of a financial hardship. This was the league's leverage, but nobody anticipated it would happen this quickly.
In addition to the huge financial win, the NFL got the "get out of jail free" liability disclaimer. The following is the legalese version:
"The settlement cannot be considered, an admission by the NFL of liability, or an admission that plaintiffs' injuries were caused by football."
The NFL had to be as surprised as everybody else based on their behavior of the past few weeks. Otherwise, why would the league have behaved like the paranoid town bully forcing ESPN to remove their name from Frontline's two-part documentary on concussions scheduled to air in October if the war had already been won. Why embarrass your business partner while simultaneously generating media attention for the very project you're trying to discredit. Only a state of high anxiety would generate that kind of behavior.
The NFL had a right to be worried. Anybody who saw the ESPN broadcast of Outside The Lines (OTL) on August 18 which focused on Dr. Elliot Pellman, the head of the NFL's oxymoronically named mild brain trauma committee, understood what had the league going nuts. If the case had gone to discovery, Dr. Pellman's incompetence would have sunk the ship. The NFL's strategy was to string this out as long as possible so discovery with Dr. Doom would never take place. It worked.
So what's next for the NFL and player safety? Unfortunately, the best case scenario for the current players was having the lawsuit drag on. Without this hovering over the league, any discussion of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) won't have the same media buzz. Consequently, the pressure on the league to do more just won't be there.
To state the obvious, the single most important issue in football is the effect of impact on the brain. Measuring and monitoring it, over both the short and long term, is critical for players health.
Stefan Duma, engineering professor at Virginia Tech, has been studying impact since 2003. Using sensors placed in the helmets of players, he was able to measure the number and severity of hits players take. It is called the Head Impact Telemetry system (HIT). The information gets translated to a sideline computer so medical staff can be alerted to look for concussion signs. It's being used at a number of other universities and has over 200,000 hits in the database.
Impact studies using the HIT technology have trickled down football's food chain to high schools as well as the Pop Warner level. It is everywhere, but the NFL!
Since 2010 the league said it was going to begin doing impact studies using the HIT system. They even had an expert, Kevin Guskiewicz, who knows as much about the system as anyone, as their consultant. To date, nothing has happened.
In 2012 the league decided to collaborate with the army to develop ways to measure impact. This joint venture was supposed to result in a study at the beginning of last season. So far all we've seen are generals and NFL honchos sitting around tables looking very serious. There was also the rumor of an impact study using sensors embedded in mouth guards. Needless to say, still nothing.
If the NFL didn't follow through on any of these projects before, why expect them to do it now when there is far less pressure? And then there's the inevitable expansion to 18 games. How exponentially more dangerous is that going to be?
The picture was, is and will continue to be disturbing. That's how the NFL does business.