Forget the NFL’s Dud of a Settlement — The Story Is the Slow Death of Public Football

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by Irvin Muchnick


Yesterday a mediator announced a $765 million settlement in a lawsuit against the National Football League by 4,000 retired players. There’s a lot of good coverage out there, including by Alan Schwarz of The New York Times, who deserves full credit as the granddaddy of this subject in mainstream media.

Today I held forth for a few minutes, as I do from time to time, on Toronto’s NewsTalk1010 with Jim Richards. We’ll post the audio clip when we have it. After you’ve watched Sean Pamphilon’s new film The United States of Football, and PBS’s two-part October documentary League of Denial — the latter with a tie-in book by Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada — take a gander at my The Concussion Inc. Files, which will be published next year by ECW Press and adapts material first published here.

It will come as no surprise to followers of this space that I think the NFL settlement is a dud. It settles nothing. Like Big Tobacco, the $10-billion-a-year NFL has written a check to make the first round of claims go away for pennies on the dollar. There are many screwed-over retired players who have opted out or not yet filed.

But more important, the league’s very omnipotent act has demonstrated more acutely than ever that public high school football is a dead man walking, a zombie, a cultural obsession with no sustainable model. Cash-strapped public school districts scrambling for the resources to pay a reading recovery instructor can’t afford the tiniest fraction of the NFL’s litigation load.

Further, this shows how the NFL, for a cool three-quarters-of-a-bil, continues to default on the subsidized public health costs of its profiteering. More adroitly than RG3 slipping a tackle, NFL lobbyists have shifted these costs to schools in the form of “concussion awareness” state-by-state legislative measures that both don’t work — or at least don’t work nearly well enough for their outlay and leap of faith: sideline neurologists, local ambulance services on call, “ImPACT” neurocognitive tests to line the pockets of WWE medical director Joe Maroon and his fellow witch doctors at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Let the maniac parents who feel otherwise continue to push their kids into this brain-busting extracurricular activity … in private clubs. Let’s get our public institutions out of it.


As with the downgrade of tobacco use from socially cool to socially gross, these changes won’t happen overnight. But a Maryland activist, Tom Hearn, is one example of a citizen-football critic who is showing us how. After the Labor Day weekend, we’ll be running a guest column on the heat Hearn is directing at the Maryland Board of Regents over the 2011 football practice death of Frostburg State University player Derek Sheely. Stay tuned.


P.S. Whenever you hear my Toronto radio interview, you’ll notice that my math was off in the calculation of the NFL lawsuit settlement shares. The $765 million comes to just under $190,000 per plaintiff, I believe. For some it will be higher, for some lower. Still a drop in the bucket of medical bills for catastrophic and/or chronic injuries.

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick