The mounting reports and allegations of the NFL’s concussion settlement paying claims too slowly aren’t surprising, in hindsight. Unfortunately, no one (me included) applied the proper amount of foresight when the concussion settlement was negotiated, and eventually tweaked in order to secure court approval.
The moment came after Judge Anita Brody rejected a settlement that included a $765 million pool of potential payments, funded by the NFL. To secure court approval, the NFL agreed to remove the cap, and to replace it with no cap at all.
At that point, the NFL assumed open-ended liability. Instead of $765 million, the NFL could end up paying, well, who knows how much? So the best way to avoid a worst-case scenario consists of the NFL dragging its feet wherever and however it can as to each and every claim being made.
“We are ensuring that legitimate claims are processed and paid in a timely way to those individuals and families who deserve these benefits,” that NFL contends amid allegations that such foot-dragging is occurring. “No legitimate claim has been rejected.”
The key word is “legitimate.” The former player may be convinced that his claim is legitimate, and the NFL may disagree. Or the NFL may simply require more i’s to be dotted, t’s to be crossed, and hurdles to be overcome in order to get payment.
If the NFL had simply cut a check and surrendered all administrative responsibilities to a third party, the league would have been done with the process. The fact that the league will be on the hook for any and all “legitimate” claims that fall within the scope of payment under the terms of the settlement necessarily incentivizes the league to apply a more stringent and exacting definition of “legitimate.”
Whether this is a “legitimate” approach to dealing with the men who made the game what it now is, and to whom the NFL allegedly lied for decades about the full extent of the risks they were taking, also is subject to interpretation, based on one’s perspective.