Can pro football ever be played safely?
The National Football League and about 4,500 players who had sued it all seemed happy with a $765 million settlement of the players' lawsuit against the league, which was announced last week. Unfortunately, the settlement probably ensures future litigation by a new generation of players because it doesn't resolve fundamental issues underlying the suit.
Players who sued contended that the league possessed but concealed abundant information about the long-term effects of collisions on players' health, particularly regarding head injuries. That allegation will not be answered, and the NFL does not have to disclose anything under the terms of the settlement.
Suicides of several players over the last several years, and the sad spectacle of others afflicted with cognitive impairment, have increased the focus on the high-impact collisions that are intrinsic to the game at the NFL level.
It's easy to see why players grasped the settlement. For many of them, it promises some security for their own care if they are afflicted with the cognitive problems, and for their families.
For the NFL, the settlement is advantageous on many scores. Although $765 million is a large sum of money, it will be paid over time and is less than one-tenth of one year's revenue for the league. So, the agreement is affordable.
As is common in settlements, the league admits no wrongdoing and the details of the allegations against it will not be publicly aired.
The settlement also included an element of timing favorable to the league. PBS' "Frontline" has produced a documentary, "League of Denial," which will air Oct. 8 and 15. It purportedly will reveal some of the evidence alleged by the players. That already was a public relations problem for the NFL, before the New York Times reported recently that the league allegedly had put pressure on ESPN - which had worked on the documentary - to withdraw from the project. Settling the suit could help diminish the impact of the documentary.
Although the league has increased its own attention to player safety and head injures, the settlement includes only a modest $10 million for head-injury research.
The settlement provides compensation for those already injured, but leaves open the question at the heart of the NFL's future: whether the game ever can be played safely.