Concussions, Settlements, Cynicism, and Standards

The NFL’s concussion settlement might be more cynical than its decades-long deceptions on the topic.

While I have nothing to gain from the National Football League’s concussion settlement, I have been an interested observer. As I stated in an earlier commentary, I played the sport and understand its intensity. So, I take notice of big moves related to the concussion issue.

In a recent article in ESPN The Magazine, Peter Keating outlined how difficult it would be for a retired NFL player to be compensated under the NFL’s new concussion settlement the league is putting in place.

Just to put things in perspective, Keating writes the following:

First, to be eligible for compensation at any point, you must register with the settlement within 180 days of its final version’s being posted on its web site. Then, if you’re feeling symptoms, you must see a doctor approved by the settlement plan’s claims administrator. These basic hurdles, combined with athletes’ lack of awareness, will be enough to knock nearly 40 percent of potentially eligible players and families out of the deal, according to estimates by the NFL’s actuaries. That gets you from about 20,500 potentially eligible players to around 12,500, according to both sides.

Next, you will need to submit to a battery of 32 neurocognitive tests. Invented by the NFL, the players’ lawyers and their consultants, this scheme is new, untested and at points bizarre — one part is a 338-question exam about your psychological state and personality whose results won’t even be used to decide if you get compensation. Stern estimates that the whole thing will probably take you around five hours to complete, and if you give up or can’t finish — and remember, you are already feeling subpar; that’s why you’re getting yourself checked out — you are out of luck.

If you do get to the end of the assessment, you will need extraordinarily poor grades to qualify as neurocognitively impaired under the settlement. For eligibility, the deal requires players to score at least 1.7 standard deviations below expectations on multiple cognitive areas, including learning and memory and executive function. That’s worse than doctors often see in patients who already have moderate-stage dementia. “Most guys don’t realize how badly off you need to be,” says Stern. “You have to be really, really bad, basically unable to take care of yourself during the day.”

That’s not a settlement, it’s an insurance policy against payouts.

Basically, retired players are presented with a catch-22. In order to collect on the compensation offered, they have to be too impaired to complete the tests that are required in order to justify eligibility to collect.

Sometimes, cynicism is on display for all to see.

In this case, the NFL might have gone too far.

I write this because it involves a critical view of professional standards and their impact on the long term strategy of any organization. We all have to choose where we draw the line on supporting stakeholders of our brands, our organizations, and our communities. Some choices are more transparently cynical than others.

Kneecapping the retired performers its business depended on might not be the highest and healthiest long term play for the NFL.

What do you think?



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