The National Football League now has $765 million new reasons to take head injuries very seriously.
That's the sum the league agreed to pay to settle a class action lawsuit filed by 4,500 retired players, both living and deceased, who had asserted that until 2010 the NFL had not properly warned them about how concussions could affect their brains long term and didn't regulate the sport in ways that would have minimized the damage.
The NFL maintained that it did not deliberately mislead players and said it had relied on the most up-to-date medical information. The league nonetheless agreed to settle the matter last week, which was the right call.
While it is somewhat unsatisfying that the league won't have to provide detailed information about its prior practices and $765 million may be too low, there are tangible benefits to settling the case without a trial. As in most settlements, resolution comes quicker, which should expedite payments that former players need to obtain appropriate medical care. The settlement also eliminates uncertainty over the eventual outcome.
In addition, the agreement with the NFL means players -- including more than 200 former Steelers -- won't have the burden on an individual basis of proving that head injuries suffered in the league were responsible for their health issues. Instead, their compensation will be based on the age of the players and the number of years in the league.
No current players are included in the settlement -- which must be approved by a federal judge in Philadelphia -- but increased attention to the problems caused by repeated concussions benefits everyone who plays the game of football, from youth leagues through professional teams.
Professional football always will hold the potential for peril, an inevitable consequence of large, strong men plowing into each other on a hard surface. But debilitating outcomes for players need not be a given, and increased vigilance on the part of officials, owners and players is vital.
The legal settlement is just one play in the long-term game plan.