The NFL is accused of hiding what it knew about players’ head injuries. The players’ union is getting second-guessed for not taking safety more seriously. And another judge is getting familiar with all the legal arguments.
Not the way the league wanted to kick off a season.
The debate over concussions and a $765 million settlement with former players is still front-and-centre as the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens get ready to open the season in Denver on Thursday night.
Sure, the settlement gives former players immediate help with their medical bills. A drawn-out court fight was avoided. And safety is a bigger concern than ever in the league.
Yet, the back-and-forth goes unabated with so many questions unanswered.
"You can say it’s Pandora’s box that’s been opened," former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason said on the eve of the season opener, "but they are trying to find solutions. As a former player, I’m thankful they’re doing that."
More than 4,500 former players had sued the league, accusing it of concealing the long-term dangers of concussions and rushing players back onto the field. They settled last Thursday after two months of court-ordered mediation.
Approval of a federal judge is required before it takes effect. The NFL doesn’t have to acknowledge that it hid information about injuries.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell defended the settlement on Wednesday in his first public comments since it was announced. Goodell appeared at an event in Manhattan promoting the Super Bowl in the area next February.
"I don’t know how it’s going to be remembered," Goodell said of the settlement. "I know what its effect is going to be, which is going to provide help for the players and the families that have cognitive issues. There’s a fund — $765 million — that’s there for players and their families who need it. And that’s a good thing.
"Rather than litigating for years, the owners, the NFL, and frankly the plaintiffs, all said, ‘Let’s go do something that’s great for the game and great for the people and get the help to the people that need it."’
Three days after the settlement was announced, four other former players filed a federal lawsuit in New Orleans against the league and helmet maker Riddell, claiming they hid information about the dangers of brain injuries.
The lawsuit on behalf of Jimmy Williams, Rich Mauti, Jimmy Keyes and Nolan Franz wants medical care for past, current and future NFL players.
During a conference call on Wednesday highlighting Fox Sports’ coverage for the season, former Super Bowl champions Troy Aikman and John Lynch agreed that the league has more work to do on head injuries.
Aikman wants the NFL to divulge more details about what it knew about the long-term impact of repeated blows to the head. Lynch expects more litigation.
"What I’m happy about is that there are players that need it (the money) and need it now, and they’re going to be taken care of," Lynch said. "But I think the notion that this is done now and we can move on is not really the reality."
While neither player was part of the original lawsuit, both have experience with blows to the head.
Lynch was a hard-hitting safety in Tampa Bay and Denver from 1993 through 2007. Aikman won three Super Bowls with the Cowboys during the 1990s, but his 12-year career ended prematurely in part because of repeated concussions.
Lynch and Aikman said they feel "great" and have shown no symptoms of long-term damage. Aikman was recently tested in Dallas, with good results.
While Aikman believes the settlement will help the former players with the most immediate need, he called the end result a "win" for the NFL.
"It’s a lot of money, but I think in terms of what could have been paid, it’s not that much," Aikman said. "I think probably in the big scheme of things, it’s a real positive. These guys will be able to benefit some and some money will be put into research, which will help.
"The one thing I’m disappointed about is that the NFL didn’t have to acknowledge what they knew about (the long-term impact) and when they knew about it. I think full disclosure would have been the best way to go.
"But that’s not going to happen now."
Esiason was a union representative with the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1980s, leading them to their second Super Bowl appearance. He pointed out that the union could have pushed harder for player safety.
"I’ve never been one to shirk the personal responsibility aspect of all this, too — that I do deserve some blame," said Esiason, appearing at an event with Goodell later in the day in Baltimore. "I think the union deserves a lot of blame for not taking this issue seriously 25-30 years ago.
"It’s unfortunate we have to come to a settlement likes this. But I think, at the end of the day, it’s a good deal."