When it comes to the NFL taking care of former players, Jim McMahon has always felt the numbers are skewed.
The 54-year-old former Bears quarterback, who now suffers from early onset dementia and depression, scoffed when the NFL offered $765 million in January to settle with former players affected by concussions and other brain-related injuries sustained during their playing careers.
On Wednesday, the NFL agreed to remove a $675 million cap on its concussion settlement six months after U.S. federal judge Anita Brody worried the initial figure may not be enough to cover the league’s 20,000 retired players.
The initial settlement offer included $675 million for compensatory claims by players who suffer from neurological symptoms, $75 million for baseline testing and another $10 million for medical research and education.
McMahon, who was honored last week in Chicago at an event sponsored by the Boston-based Sports Legacy Institute, told a small group of reporters, including from Chicago Football, last week that considering how profitable the NFL is, the lack of financial support for former players demonstrated it didn’t care.
“To be honest with you, I don’t really know how concerned [the NFL] is about [concussions] because they know there’s going to be another batch of them coming in next year and they continue to make billions and billions of dollars,” McMahon said. “They threw out $760 million to us, which is a lot of money don’t get me wrong. But it’s 1 percent of what they make.
“That fund is supposed to last 65 years. It won’t last two years the way it’s structured.”
McMahon is part of a class-action lawsuit against the NFL that includes 4,500 former players including former Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett. McMahon said last week that he was diagnosed with anywhere between 3-5 concussions, but probably sustained even more during his career, which ended in 1996.
The 163-page revised settlement, which has not yet been approved by Brody, not only removes the cap but retains the payout for individual retirees. According to the Associated Press, a young retiree suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease would receive $5 million, a 50-year-old dealing with Alzheimer’s disease would receive $1.6 million and an 80-year-old with early dementia would receive $25,000.
As was the case in its previous settlement offer, the NFL is not admitting liability or wrong-doing in the claims being leveled by former players. According to wording in the settlement, the NFL can appeal an unlimited number of claims each year whereas it was limited to 10 a year under the previous settlement agreement. However, Christopher Seeger – the lead attorney for the plaintiffs – said he can petition Brody’s court if he feels as if the NFL is submitting “vexatious, frivolous or bad faith appeals.”
In a prepared statement, Seeger said Wednesday’s settlement agreement will provide retired players and their families “immediate help” and will provide peace of mind to those who believe they may be develop a condition in the future.
McMahon said he couldn’t get health insurance from the league for 10 years after his retirement. He said he now plays $700 a month for insurance and has a $5,000 deductable on his policy.
Despite fighting symptoms and depression that almost drove him to kill himself, McMahon now works to help former players. He struggles with knowing that former teammates and others have dealt with brain injuries that have left them not knowing who they are and in some cases, have led them to commit suicide.
So when the league offered what it did in January, McMahon knew it wasn’t enough. According to the Associated Press, even with the cap removed, it’s not expected that the league – which boasts annual revenues of more than $9 billion, will spend no more than $675 million to former players.
“They threw out a big numbers and the lawyers jumped on it and everybody knew it was wrong,” McMahon said. Even the judge.
“I don’t know when they’re going to come up with a final figure, but unless it’s in the couple billion [dollar] range, I don’t think it’s going to be enough.”
Former Bears defensive captain Gary Fencik hasn’t dealt with the issues McMahon has, but still sympathizes with his former teammate and others. He admires McMahon’s willingness to put his story out there, which he hopes will remove some of the stigma that comes along with former players admitting that are dealing with health-related issues.
Fencik said the head injuries and symptoms and diseases associated with them have been a game-changer.
“I think that the volume of evidence is pretty clear that the NFL could have done more to help the players,” Fencik told Chicago Football last week. “So the question becomes today, ‘What can they do to help the current players and what can they do help players who are exhibiting problems post their NFL careers like Jim McMahon?’”
Fencik said when he now gets together with former teammates, the discussions no longer center around knees and hips and shoulders. Instead, the first question they ask involves head injuries, understanding how big the issue has become.
Fencik, like McMahon, believes the onus is now on the league to monitor head injuries among current players. Although strides have been made with better helmets and technology, McMahon said coaches and team trainers and physicians must be accountable if they are allowing players to re-enter a game after they display concussion symptoms.
But McMahon, who said he continued to play during his career as long as he could walk – playing at least once with a broken neck – acknowledged that some of the responsibility lies with the players themselves.
“It’s a violent game and people are going to get hurt,” McMahon said. “We’re just trying to minimize that by educating these guys not to go back in (to games) when they’re fuzzy.
“You’re going to get dinged up and it doesn’t take much to screw up your brain.”
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.