The stream of words from Dexter Manley shuddered to a halt.
“Hamlin?” he said. “Hammel?”
The name of a wedge-busting Redskins teammate floated around the edges of Manley’s mind Wednesday afternoon. Nicknamed the “Secretary of Defense” for the vicious hits that built his reputation as one of the NFL’s feared defensive ends in the 1980s, Manley was stumped.
“A defensive tackle … could play special teams … I can’t even remember the number he wore,” he said.
“I don’t think his name was Steve,” he said. “I don’t know his name.”
The search ended without success. This isn’t new. Last year, Manley joined the more than 4,600 former players suing the NFL over head injuries. And Manley’s boisterous voice won’t be found grumbling about the proposed $765 million settlement reached last week.
The words pick up again.
“I’m one of those victims,” Manley said. “A lot of days I get up and I don’t remember my wife’s name. My wife will tell you I suffered. I just want to get better. Get my thoughts back together. Whatever it takes to do that.”
The 54-year-old recently completed occupational therapy. The experience challenged him, humbled him. Each day, he hopes, is a bit better than the one before.
“I don’t want to suffer like that,” Manley said. “I don’t want to suffer. I don’t want to suffer.”
The settlement, which needs to be approved by Judge Anita Brody in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, includes $675 million to compensate former players suffering from cognitive impairment. The program’s mechanics remain vague — the estimated 15,000 to 18,000 living retired players are eligible — but half the money is scheduled to be paid in the first three years.
Urgency guided the plaintiffs. Not betting on the uncertain outcome from four of five years of legal discovery. Not as player after player is pulled into the oblivion of neurodegenerative disease. They wanted immediate help. That urgency to settle, lost amid complaints about the distant relationship of the settlement amount to the NFL’s $9.5 billion annual revenue, underscores the shape so many former players are in.
“They’re viewing it with blinders on,” said Paul Anderson, the Kansas City, Mo., attorney who tracks the issue at NFLConcussionLitigation.com. “They’re not calculating the substantial amount of risk that was at play. … The plaintiffs started at zero and went to $765 million.”