NFL set to pay more than $750M to settle lawsuits

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At a congressional hearing in October 2009, lawmakers grilled Goodell about the NFL’s concussion policies and the connection between injuries on the playing field and later brain diseases; soon afterward, the league made several changes, including revamping its return-to-play guidelines and changing the co-chairmen of its committee on concussions.

Since then, the NFL changed rules in a bid to reduce hits to the head and neck, protect defenseless players, and have neurologists clear players before they can return to games or practice after concussion.

One key rule switch that takes effect this season bars ball carriers from using the crown of the helmet to make contact with defenders.

Football has been my life, and football has been kind to me,” said former Dallas Cowboys running back Dorsett, one of at least 10 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who filed suit since 2011. “But when I signed up for this, I didn’t know some of the repercussions. I did know I could get injured, but I didn’t know about my head or the trauma or the things that could happen to me later on in life.”

In addition to Dorsett, some higher-profile plaintiffs include Super Bowl-winning quarterback Jim McMahon, who suffers from dementia; former running back Kevin Turner, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease; and the family of All-Pro selection Junior Seau, who committed suicide last year.

Turner, who played for the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles, predicted that most of his peers would support the settlement.

“Chances are … I won’t make it to 50 or 60,” said Turner, now 44. “I have money now to put back for my children to go to college and for a little something to be there financially.”

All former NFL players are eligible to seek care, screening or compensation, whether they suffered a documented concussion or not. The amounts they receive will be based on their age, condition and years of play. They do not need to prove that their health problems are connected to playing football.

Players’ lawyers said they expect the fund to cover the ex-athletes’ expenses up to age 65. Current players are not covered and, therefore, theoretically could bring their own lawsuits at some point.

“All of those `experts’ said this would be a 10-year process, but I personally believe both sides did whatever they had to, to help retired players _ and at the same time, to not change the game of football as we know it,” said Craig Mitnick, one of the players’ lawyers.

If the settlement holds, the NFL won’t have to disclose internal files that might reveal what it knew, and when, about concussion-linked brain problems.

“I think it’s more important that the players have finality, that they’re vindicated, and that as soon as the court approves the settlement they can begin to get screening, and those that are injured can get their compensation. I think that’s more important than looking at some documents,” said lawyer Sol Weiss of Philadelphia, who filed the first lawsuit on behalf of former Atlanta Falcon Ray Easterling and a few others. Easterling later committed suicide.

Helmet maker Riddell, which was also sued, was not a party to the settlement. The company declined comment.

Eugene “Mercury” Morris, a running back who played in the NFL from 1969-76, mostly with the Miami Dolphins, wishes the case had gone to trial.

Referring to the league, he said: “These are the same people who tried to render the concept that concussions were never a problem and concussions didn’t occur in the NFL. My reaction to it is when they settle with you, it’s because they have no other choice. … I still don’t trust them.”

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