NANCY ARMOUR, AP National Writer
Tony Dorsett hopes a proposed $765 million settlement with the NFL can make a difference in the lives of the thousands of former players who are suffering from concussion-related brain injuries.
Players like Dorsett, a Hall of Fame running back.
“There’s definitely a dire need for help for these guys — for us guys,” Dorsett told The Associated Press on Thursday.
The settlement would provide immediate compensation for players and their families, pay for medical exams and treatment, and underwrite research that the plaintiffs hope will protect future generations from the devastating effects of repeated blows to the head. The settlement still has to be approved by Senior U.S. District Judge Anita Brody in Philadelphia, something lead plaintiffs’ lawyer Christopher Seeger said he expects to happen in the next 60 to 90 days.
“I don’t know all the details so I really can’t speak to the specifics, but I’m glad to see there’s been some movement and some reaction to all this,” said Dorsett, the most accomplished and best-known plaintiff in the flurry of lawsuits after starring for the Dallas Cowboys and winning the 1976 Heisman Trophy at Pittsburgh.
“Wow,” Dorsett said, pausing. “I’m glad to see this has come to somewhat of an end. But the research obviously is going to be important, the safety of the players is going to be extremely important.”
Dorsett and Super Bowl-winning quarterback Jim McMahon were among the more than 4,500 former athletes — some suffering from dementia, depression or Alzheimer’s — who have sued the NFL since the first case was filed in Philadelphia in 2011. They accused the league of concealing the long-term dangers of concussions and rushing injured players back onto the field, while glorifying and profiting from the kind of bone-jarring hits that make for spectacular highlight-reel footage.
“I’m shocked that it is settled. I’m used to the NFL taking a hard-line approach as they have throughout the years with strikes and everything else,” said former offensive tackle Lomas Brown, a seven-time Pro Bowler with Detroit, Arizona, Cleveland, the New York Giants and Tampa Bay. “I’m curious how they came up with the figure and I’ve got a lot of questions, but I am happy that it’s done. Any time the NFL acknowledges they are ready to settle something, it shows they knew they had some sort of negligence.”
The NFL has insisted that safety has always been a top priority, and in settling the thousands of cases it admitted no wrongdoing. While a trial could have forced the NFL to disclose what it knew, and when, about concussion-linked brain problems, Seeger said the plaintiffs’ greater concern was a fair settlement — and one that would be paid immediately.
Had the lawsuits gone to trial, it could have been years before the players saw any money. Years the players might not have.
Already, Pro Bowler Junior Seau and former Atlanta Falcon Ray Easterling, one of the first players to file a lawsuit, have committed suicide. Former Philadelphia Eagles full back Kevin Turner has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, at 44, and fears he might not live to see his 50th birthday. Dorsett finds himself forgetting how to get places he’s been going for 30 years, and his 10-year-old daughter now complains that they can’t do certain things together because “Daddy won’t remember how to do it.”
“Football has been my life and football has been kind to me,” Dorsett said. “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. I’m glad, again, that they’ve come to some type of resolution but I’ve got to see how it all plays out. I hope it will benefit some guys that need help. That’s the good thing.”
Under the settlement, individual payouts would be capped at $5 million for men with Alzheimer’s disease; $4 million for those diagnosed after their deaths with a brain condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy; and $3 million for players with dementia.
“The compensation provided in this settlement will lift a huge burden off of men who are suffering right now, both them and their families of course,” Turner said. “They no longer have to make decisions regarding their health based on what they can afford, but they can make it based on what’s the best treatment for them,” Turner said. “Those who are asymptomatic or those who have no symptoms right now, I’ve talked to some that still worry that in the future, they may wind up, unfortunately, like me. And if, God forbid, any of these former players get sick in the future, this program will still be there for them. It’s just phenomenal.”
The settlement also will pay for baseline assessments and, if needed, medical care, for players who have not yet shown signs of brain injuries or are only beginning to show symptoms of impairment.
“My whole deal, and the other lawsuit with images, is all about health care, which we don’t have,” said Joe DeLamielleure, the Hall of Fame offensive lineman with the Buffalo Bills. “Some reporter called and said, ‘That comes out to $170,000 per man.’ I said, ‘Good, I don’t want that. I want health care.’ Because what good is the money going to do you?
“My whole thing through this whole thing is we lived our dreams, the players, and now our families live our nightmares,” DeLamielleure added. “Let’s help take care of the women and the kids who have to take of their dads from this stuff.”
AP Football Writer Barry Wilner and AP Sports Writers John Wawrow and Larry Lage contributed to this report.