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An Open Letter To NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

National Football League logo Today's blog post presents slightly different fare from the usual data breach, privacy, and identity-theft news. Today's post does relate to corporate responsibility -- namely, the oligopoly that is the National Football League (NFL). My open letter to the NFL:

Dear NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell:

I love the game of football. I am and have been an NFL fan for many decades. At the age of five, my father took me to my first AFL game in 1960 at the old Polo Grounds in New York City. The New York Titans lost to the Houston Oilers. Over the decades I have watched the NFL both on television and at stadiums in Buffalo, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, New York City, and Foxboro, Massachusetts.

I write to you today about head injuries and concussions. Recently, the Associated Press reported comments by you about the recent $765 million settlement between the NFL and 4,500 former players:

"This is a significant amount of money...The plaintiffs also agreed it was an appropriate amount. The mediator felt it was an appropriate amount."

Yes, $765 million is a lot of money; definitely when compared to the average annual salary range of $35,000 - $50,000 for football fans. According to Forbes magazine, the payment is not much, about 0.5 percent, when compared to the league's current $9.5 billion annual revenues. News media have reported that you expect league revenues to increase to about $25 billion in fifteen years. That makes the $765 million payment seem even smaller.

Second, as you know a settlement agreement is often a judgement by plaintiffs about money offered today versus the risks of money later = the costs of a long, drawn-out lawsuit X the probability of win in court. (Reportedly, the players originally asked for a $2 billion settlement.) News stories have covered the struggles of former players suffering with Alzheimers, dementia, higher death rates, and suicides. So, suffering former players have a clear incentive to settle now for money to pay health care and related expenses.

Either way, the settlement is nothing anybody should be proud about.

Third, the $765 million compensation to retired players and their families equals about $150,000 per player -- not including any Federal, state, and local taxes owed. That doesn't seem like much when compared to the average long-term care cost for Alzheimer's patients at $234 per day, or $78,110 per year ($56,290 per year per patient with dementia). So, the NFL payment to former players equals about two years of care -- not long -- and far less coverage if the payments are taxable.

And, if some retired, seriously injured players receive the $3 to 5 million maximum from the $765 million settlement, then others from the 4,500 players in the settlement will receive little to nothing -- unless the NFL will pay more during the next 20 years, as your league's annual revenues approach $25 billion. Will you?

The NFL Life Line (for suicides) for players and families was a good start, but the problem of brain injuries is neurological, not psychological. So what else will the league do? Some former players said that more needs to be done, and I agree.

Fourth, the payment calculation seems suspect. Forbes reported:

"The NFL also will cover various legal and administrative fees. Meanwhile, players and families who sued the league will get payouts from the league across the next 20 years. Individual compensation is capped at $5 million per player..."

Forbes also reported:

"If you develop dementia, well, that’s worth a maximum of $3 million to the NFL. If you’re diagnosed with CTE (chronic traumatic encelphalopathy) after your death, your family is eligible for up to $4 million. And lastly, if you are unfortunate enough to develop Lou Gehrig’s disease, your potential payout tops out at $5 million. All other retired players will be required to take a test to determine if they suffer from neurological issues, but they will not be required to prove that those issues are linked to concussions suffered while playing in the NFL. At that point, the retired players will be paid according to the number of years they played in the league, with the length of career used to estimate the number of blows to the head the player suffered (I’m not making this up). Ironically, no distinction will be made between positions, so a retired punter stands to receive just as much as a retired offensive tackle, assuming they played for the same amount of time."

What?! I expected payments based on the severity of the injury.

Fifth, my primary feedback to you is this. As much as I love the game, I will stop watching NFL games, if the league fails to do the right thing about head injuries and concussions. That the players sued the league indicates that change is not happening as fast as needed. The right thing includes several things: a) address with greater speed the medical conditions of current and former players; b) address the information needs of youth (a/k/a potential future NFL players); and c) reduce or eliminate brain injuries and concussions.

I mention youth because the NFL has benefited greatly from youth; as fans and as participants in the sport. Part of that was the Punt, Pass, and Kick program, with competitions often held during hall-time sessions during NFL games. And, there is the NFL Play 60 program. Players at the college and high school levels often aspire for careers in the NFL. Your league has clout.

While discussing head injuries with other fans (yes, we do discuss this on social networking websites), some make the point that current players made a choice to play in the NFL and assume the risks. While people definitely should be held accountable for their decisions, that choice is good only if it was an informed choice. Many former players and their families clearly stated that they felt they weren't informed. Society knows a lot more today about brain injuries than it did 10 or 15 years ago, when many younger, current NFL players were making sports decisions in high school.

The research shows brain damage at earlier ages -- 20 percent of high school players suffer brain injuries, and 40 percent suffer concussions. So, I will evaluate your league's response to head injuries and concussions with what it does to inform youth -- sports programs and coaches at the college and high school levels -- to help them make informed choices about football careers.

If the NFL only throws chunks of cash at suffering current and former players (and not items "a," "b," and "c" above), then I will consider that a failure to do the right thing, and promptly stop watching the sport. I want to hear more from you about what else the NFL will do -- in plain English, not legal-speak -- as your league's revenues approach $25 billion annually.


George Jenkins
Boston, Massachusetts


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Great letter George. Not only does the NFL cheat its players who are its bread and butter, but also by demanding and getting huge concessions from each host city for the building of new stadium and all related infrastructure the rest of us are also cheated.

Joyce Irvin Harris

This is an excellent letter! Not only have you stated and substantiated your concerns, but you have outlined action steps that would demonstrate seriousness of intent to do right by former, current, and future NFL players regarding concussive and traumatic brain injuries.

As a 15 year survivor of traumatic brain injury (TBI), I can tell you that your life and that of your family are *never* the same again. Even so-called "mild" TBI can be extremely disruptive to one's lifestyle and career as you permanently lose cognitive abilities taken for granted. Furthermore, TBI is exacerbated by age and can lead to Parkinson's Disease as we see with Muhammed Ali.



NFL Concussion Deniers See A Liberal Media Conspiracy


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