One day after a U.S. district judge gave preliminary approval to an uncapped financial settlement between the NFL and its retired players, two former Steelers involved in the lawsuit applauded the decision amid complaints by other retired players — including former teammates — that it was a “lousy deal.”
More than 4,500 retired players, including 221 former Steelers, filed suit against the NFL over the long-term effects from head injuries associated with football. U.S. District Judge Anita Brody did not approve the original settlement because it capped damages to retired players at $765 million. The revised settlement is uncapped and retired players will have access to money and the care they need once there is final approval.
“It sounds like a good deal,” said former center Jeff Hartings, who played 11 NFL seasons, including six for the Steelers from 2001-06. “First and foremost, guys who are suffering can get help immediately. This is something that could have dragged on for years. I’m satisfied that [Brody] took it into her own hands to get a settlement. She did what was best for those who are suffering right now.”
Retired players must be able to prove they have cognitive damage to be eligible for monetary rewards from the NFL. Those with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and death caused by chronic traumatic encephalopathy are eligible for money.
One aspect of the settlement forcing some retired players to think twice about accepting it or opting out is language that states living players with CTE are not eligible for monetary rewards.
Last week, before Brody gave preliminary approval of a revised settlement, former Steelers Alan Faneca and Sean Morey were two of seven players who objected in federal court because they believed the revised settlement would limit the rewards retired players would receive and not expand it.
In the motion, the seven former players said the proposed settlement was a “lousy deal” for the retirees and “a great deal for the NFL.”
Retired players can opt out of the settlement and maintain the right to sue at a later date if they choose.
In a recent interview on Sirius XM NFL Radio, Faneca said of the settlement: “The window is so small when it should be 10 times as big because there’s that much potential out there. What we’re after is broadening the scope of things and not closing the window on so many guys and excluding future guys, guys that might not have problems now.”
Hartings and many of the thousands of players who filed suit do not currently have cognitive issues, but they wanted to protect their families should they develop brain diseases later in life.
Hartings played next to Faneca for six years on the Steelers offensive line and was teammates with Morey for three years.
“I greatly respect Sean’s opinions on it,” Hartings said. “He has been deeply involved in the concussion issues. I’m just happy for the guys who will get immediate assistance when they need it.”
Former Steelers running back Frenchy Fuqua had a similar outlook on the settlement. Fuqua received an email from his lawyers Monday that gave details on the settlement and urged players to accept the terms.
“Roger Goodell and the NFL finally did a good job,” Fuqua said. “Overall, there are a ton of players who are similar to me. They’re forgetful. They’re redundant. They can’t remember things. I’m really proud of the players association and the owners for the NFL teams. An incident occurred and they said, ‘We’re going to stand up to it and be there with you.’ They’re taking care of guys and there are a lot of guys who are in need of help.”
Fuqua’s counsel is Zimmer Reed in Minneapolis, a law firm that represents a number of retired NFL players. Fuqua said his lawyers told him retired players with CTE who develop other cognitive diseases such as dementia or Alzheimer’s will be eligible for rewards.
Fuqua said he has heard from dozens of former teammates about the settlement and acknowledges there are some issues that must be worked out. But like Hartings, Fuqua is glad to see a conclusion because he knows players in need who can benefit from the financial rewards.
“I got about 20 phone calls from guys [Monday night],” Fuqua said. “Reggie Harrison was one of the guys who called. They were all wondering why you get less money the older you get. It’s the younger guys who are getting more money. That might be one of the reasons guys are thinking about opting out.
“I won’t say anything bad about the guys who opt out. They have their reasons. What I appreciate above and beyond the monetary aspect of it is they are guaranteeing treatment for players for the next 65 years.”
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1.