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The NFL settlment: Who really pays?

| Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Like an offense hurrying to snap the ball before the opposing coach can challenge a ruling on the previous play, the NFL surely hopes its tentative 20-year, $765 million settlement of about 4,500 retired players' concussion-related lawsuits is approved by a federal judge in Philadelphia before taxpayers realize it would burden them with the vast majority of these players' medical costs.

Writing for Columbia Journalism Review, David Cay Johnston, president of Investigative Reporters & Editors, says media reports have missed the settlement's real significance. He points out that in the context of NFL finances, $765 million is just “a fraction of one percent of likely revenues over the next two decades.” And after deducting from that total the costs of baseline medical tests, research grants and efforts to inform plaintiffs, the settlement's average player payout would be just $150,000 at best.

That, combined with NFL health insurance ending after players are retired for five years, means the settlement “cannot possibly cover the lost wages and medical bills the former players will face during their lifetimes.” And that means many of those players eventually will end up relying on such taxpayer-funded programs as Medicaid and Social Security Disability.

“What the NFL has achieved, if the settlement is approved, is to shift costs from itself to the taxpayers,” Mr. Johnston writes — which makes the public funding for NFL stadiums seem almost taxpayer-friendly by comparison.

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