Fighting for Themselves, Fighting for the Game

The season is near, but don't lose perspective on the importance of the players’ battle in the concussion lawsuit. And meet Kevin Turner, one of its foremost faces

For over 4,500 players and their estates, the fight with the NFL over the role of football in post-career head trauma has been a long, stressful battle that is now over.
For more than 4,500 players and their families, the fight with the NFL over the role of football in post-career health problems has been a long, stressful battle. (Matt Rourke/AP)

There’s only one story today, still. I know the season is three days away, and the concussion case settlement is four days old. But this head trauma issue was the nuclear cloud that hung over the game, and I think there are things you need to know—particularly you who would trash the settlement as being too meager. “Chump change,’’ I believe many of you called it on Twitter and elsewhere. We’ll have all week, and the bottom 3,500 words of this column, to trumpet the opening of the league’s 94th season. This morning, you need to hear the story of 44-year-old former battering-ram fullback and current ALS sufferer Kevin Turner, and of the lead plaintiffs’ attorney who woke up more than once at night thinking of Turner, and how men like Turner pushed this case to get settled.

“I have a policy of not getting involved with the plaintiffs in cases like this, whether it’s NFL players, ballerinas or regular people,’’ Chris Seeger, one of the lead attorneys for the 4,500 former players and estates of former players, told me Sunday night. “I like to keep a level head. But I met Kevin several times. Nobody had a bigger impact on me in this case than Kevin did. I’d wake up at night, sometimes in a cold sweat, thinking about this man and how important it was to him that he provide for his family, that his children get the college education they deserve.”

I spoke with Turner over the phone for an hour Sunday afternoon. His voice is often garbled, because amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—known by many as Lou Gehrig’s disease—is in the process of robbing all his muscles of their vitality, including the ones that form words in his tongue and mouth and vocal cords. But this was a pretty good afternoon; he’d taken medication to ensure he could be well understood.

Turner is an Alabama boy. He played for the Crimson Tide, then got drafted by the Patriots in the third round in 1992. He played eight years for the Patriots and Eagles, and retired following the 1999 season. He lives in Birmingham now. He is divorced with three children, the oldest of whom played his first varsity high school game ever on Friday night. That filled Turner with pride, knowing his son loved the game enough to pursue it, and now as a sophomore he was playing at a high level.

He knows what you’re thinking: How can he let his son play? And how he can he not hate the sport that very likely gave him—such a young man—this cruel disease with no cure?

“It’s not complicated,’’ Turner said. “I love football. I always will love football. I love football so much I let my oldest son play the game, because I knew he would love it too.’’

***

Table of Contents

What you'll find in this week's Monday Morning Quarterback:

Page 1—Think the players got a bad deal in the concussion settlement? Let them explain why they're happy with the deal

Page 2—Kevin Turner, former player and ALS patient, describes his feelings on the settlement and why he doesn't hate football

Page 3—Quotes of the Week; Tweets of the Week; Bill Belichick hasn't been very good at drafting defensive backs; Check out all the recent playoff turnover

Page 4—Ten Things I Think I Think, including my impressions of the final cuts and a look at the crapshoot that is drafting a quarterback; the Adieu Haiku

There are a few reasons this case settled when it did last Thursday morning, with a ruling by U.S. District Court judge Anita Brody announcing the mediated $765 million deal that she still must formally approve. The key points:

The deadline. Brody had told both sides they had until a date in July to reach a settlement. When they went to her at the appointed time nearly two months ago and said they were deadlocked, she assigned a mediator, Judge Layn Phillips, and told each side they had until Sept. 3 to reach a deal. If they didn’t have a deal by then, she’d rule, and she told both sides there would be parts of her ruling that could well be injurious to each.

Each side was motivated to settle. ESPN reported over the weekend that Brody “signaled” that she agreed with part of the NFL’s argument—that a large percentage of the plaintiffs, those who played from 1994 to 2010, should be omitted from the suit because the collective bargaining agreement precluded them from filing lawsuits over health issues. The players, instead, would have had to file cases with the NFL and go through the regular grievance process. No way they wanted that. The players also were pushing for a quick resolution because many of the sicker ones, Turner included, needed the money now and not years from now when the appeals had been exhausted. From the NFL’s side, there was no way it wanted the dirty laundry of stories of team doctors ignoring or minimizing concussions during games aired in depositions before the trial, or in testimony at trial. The NFL didn’t know what would or wouldn’t be admissible at trial. One rogue doctor or ruthless trainer would have been enough to turn all public sentiment against the league, whether it won the trial or not. And the league was motivated to get the focus on the field, instead of it continually getting pummeled by the bad publicity of a continuing black cloud of head trauma.

The players’ side controls the payout pool. This was important to the players. They didn’t want the NFL controlling which doctors would examine the players in baseline testing, which would be the base provision for determining how much money each injured player is awarded. And the players’ side got accountants and actuaries—professionals who use statistics to assess risk and figure long-term disbursements for huge cash pools—to figure out fair payouts to former players depending on their individual cases. The experts tried to figure a way this payout pool would be financially viable for 65 years, so the last player who could file a claim generations down the road would be one cut this preseason.

It’s complicated. But at the end, the attorneys for the players felt they got as much as they could from the NFL before the two sides would have had to appear in front of Judge Brody on Tuesday—at which point the players knew the case could have been weed-whacked if Brody removed all the players who had played since 1994.

So the deal got done: a $685 million pool for compensation (a $5 million individual ceiling for ALS sufferers, $4 million for Parkinson’s, $3 million for Alzheimer’s or dementia), $75 million to fund baseline testing on retired players to see if they’ve been cognitively impaired, and $10 million for research. In addition, the NFL will pay lawyers’ fees for the plaintiffs, which will likely be $200 million or more. Over the next 20 years, then, NFL teams will pay out about $1 billion, half in the first three years to fund the compensation pool.

Nobody had a bigger impact on me in this case than Kevin did. I’d wake up at night, sometimes in a cold sweat, thinking about this man and how important it was to him that he provide for his family, that his children get the college education they deserve. —Chris Seeger, Kevin Turner’s attorney

Kevin Turner’s payout, depending on his exam and findings, will be maxed out at $5 million. When he was asked in confidence by one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys about the deal—with all details, including the part about the judge possibly throwing him out of the case because he played during the 1994-2010 time period—he was clear with his desire.

“I told him [the attorney] I was happy with it,’’ Turner said. “I really wasn’t expecting closure of this within my lifetime, honestly.”

I’m told a large majority of NFL owners approved the details of the settlement in conversations with commissioner Roger Goodell in the last couple of weeks. (But it was not unanimous.) And why wouldn’t they approve? For about $16 million per team all told in the next three years and $12 million over the following 17 years, nuclear winter was averted. If individual players are unhappy with the amount of compensation and want to file claims, they’ll run into some of the best litigators in America, the NFL’s, and it’ll take years and millions of dollars to fight the fight. So for now, most experts feel the crisis has been averted, and the game will go on.

Seeger was one of the lead attorneys in the Vioxx case that won $4.8 billion from the pharmaceutical giant Merck. He’s been down this road before, figuring how hard he can push a giant company. He’s heard the criticism of what the players got, and he’s hot about it.

“I would love to debate any sane person about this settlement,’’ Seeger said. “We plotted how much these players who need the money now and in the future, and who are eligible for it, would need, and we got it. We got it now, not 10 years from now. I’ve heard the criticism. A pittance … chump change. That is stupidity. We got exactly what we needed for the players and the families who need it most.

“I’ve seen people say because the NFL has $9 billion in [annual] revenue, that $765 million is too little. Suppose we sued GE, and GE has $50 billion a year in revenue, and we didn’t get $50 billion. Would that have been a bad settlement?

“It’s easy to sit in the cheap seats and have a conviction that the settlement is no good. You weren’t in the game. You just don’t know. What I asked myself at the end as a lawyer was, ‘Is this enough? Is this enough for Kevin?’ ‘’

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135 comments
epste696
epste696

Comment on the format (for the entire site) now that it's been 1+ months.  Looks like it was designed for the under 10 or over 80 crowd.  The large pictures and large boxes and large print give me a headache.  I still log on to read MMQB, but I've given up on the rest.

poeboy
poeboy

PETER-- I do believe somebody just turned off the switch.. I have a building with vapor lights and they take 20 to 25 minutes to reset. They still have not explained what happened. Since The Super Dome has opened, it has hosted NFL, NBA, AAA baseball, NCAA and high school football and basketball, Monster Trucks, Circus', BMX, Conventions.. The lights going out has NEVER happened before. Besides, if it had been a relay or transformer, the lights would have been out a lot longer. It is not crazy or farfetched that someone, basically, threw the breaker and immediately turned it back on. The lights go out and it takes 20-25 minutes to reset. Just enough time to prevent a blow out and NFL ratings disaster. Like I said, there has not been an explanation of what happened.  

CharlieCharnigo
CharlieCharnigo

"That, by the way, might be the silliest thing I’ve heard a player say in a long, long time. And that encompasses a lot of silliness. Lewis said he had no facts to back up his accusation, made in the NFL Films’ America’s Game show, which will be shown tonight on NFL Network. “But,’’ Lewis says on the show, “you cannot tell me somebody wasn't sitting there and when they say, ‘The Ravens [are] about to blow them out. Man, we better do something.’ … “ Lewis doesn't need advice from me, but he should have stopped at, “I’m not going to accuse nobody of nothing.”....Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the 1958 NFL Championship Game...not that the Greatest Game Ever Played was important to the NFL or anything...but in the '58 game late in the game the TV cable broke...so the entire country was not going to see the end of the game...then...well waddya know...some "person" runs onto the field and causes a delay in the game and the cable is fixed. Yea...the NFL would NEVER ever do something like that. Oh and it was and is widely speculated that that "person" was an employee of the NFL offices in NYC. 

timohuatl
timohuatl

9 espresso shots on a Sunday? That can only mean it's the Niner's year! You made the wrong pick, Peter. San Francisco will take home the trophy!

But seriously, you obviously know the game better than most, including myself, but if I may isolate just one part of your selection results, I'll bet my decision-making metric is pretty good.

MischaFleishman
MischaFleishman

Can someone please consider Johnny Jolly as comeback player of the year? The dude has been out of the league for 3 years, two of those years spent in jail.  He isn't in one of the glamorous positions in football, DT or LDE in a 3/4, but the dude got his life straightened out, made it back to the NFL, and made a 53 man roster at the age of 30.  If Michael Vick can win Comeback Player of the Year, why is nobody evening considering Jolly as a candidate?  They both did wrong, they both may have been subject to the culture they grew up in, and struggled to escape their past, but if we can heroize a man who murdered animals, why can't we do the same for a man who had an addiction to codeine?

I know Jolly won't win the award, I don't think he should, because his impact to his team is far less than a star QB or RB or CB even, but I think that he should at least be mentioned as a possible candidate, because he offers more as a hero figure and role model than a player coming off a torn ACL does.  Maybe Jolly will be a candidate for the Ed Block courage award? Probably not though.

TZT
TZT

Did Peter actually mention the Chargers?  Hell must have froze over.

DjangoZeaman
DjangoZeaman

Peter - any job that requires you drink that much caffeine is probably not a healthy job to have. It's a massively different scale, but in a column all about players hurting their long term health in order to play football I couldn't help but notice your own willingness to hurt yourself for your job.

The truth is that we glorify over-working and working to the point of injuring our health. No matter the profession.

JackLandon
JackLandon

re:  Pat White making the 'Skins squad.  Keep in mind that RGIII is coming off major knee surgery and has seen no game action AND Kirk Cousins missed most of the pre-season with a sprained foot.  I would say that right now White, in addition to being Vick in practice this week, is also insurance.  Give them a couple weeks of good health from Griffin and Cousins and either White or Grossman will likely be released.  Mpst likely White. 

NeedARealGM
NeedARealGM

I have a really hard time not only with this story but with the notion that grown men voluntarily playing a violent sport for millions of dollars were somehow duped into thinking that there wouldn't be a price to pay physically down the road? Now Peter King very blindly attaches a sympathy card to the picture by including an ALS sufferer as the poster boy for this entire mess.  It is an insult pure and simple.  I lost my father to ALS and I've been involved in the ongoing fight for dollars to support research and I can tell you it has nothing to do with concussions, anyone that says it does is preaching junk science for personal gain.  It is very sad to see the condition of Kevin Turner and having gone through this with my Dad, he is facing a slow decline to a point where his muscles will no longer serve his purposes and he will die.  What Peter King doesn't point out is that ALS is a slow decline and death of all nerve cells that deliver messages from the brain to the muscles and researchers do not know why this occurs, but they've narrowed the scope to include heredity (1 in 10 cases), gene mutation, chemical imbalance of glutamate, and abnormal handling of proteins in the gene cells that become toxic.  The irony of ALS, the brain continues to function at 100 percent normal levels so the person becomes trapped in their functionless body but have a fully functioning brain to the very end.  To suggest that ALS is triggered by brain trauma is reckless and not supported by fact.  This is nothing more than an attempt to gain sympathy for a cause and I'm not buying it.  These players have earned big dollars during a brief window of opportunity, they no longer have the ability to earn those big dollars and most of them never planned ahead....this is nothing more than an attempt to hold the league hostage and extort more money to now bail out a majority of former players that are living in poverty.  Have you seen any football players today, with everything we know about sports medicine, head trauma, etc., refusing to play in the NFL out of concern for their health in later years? No, they continue to line up and hope and pray that their name gets called on draft day just like they did 30 years ago....and just like they did all those years ago, most of today's players will not put money aside for their life after football and we will continue to see stories of former players that once were cheered by the masses now down and out and somehow we're supposed to feel sorry for them? How about the workers that paid into retirement funds all their working lives then hit 65 and found out their pensions were not funded and they have to keep working to put food on the table....that's a real story.  I say, how about these former players going to work or is that beneath them? The real headline should be, former NFL players successfully extort 765 million dollars from NFL.

Paul Sousa
Paul Sousa

non football thoughts - one of the reasons they went to the one game wild card is to value winning the division.  There were seasons in which NYY and/or  Bos and/or Tampa clinched their spots and it was obvious they were trying to get the first round matchup of their choice by fielding an MLB team of September callus.

scBlais
scBlais

"Good example of reaching for a guy who never really loved the game. Watkins never played football until he was 22."

I hope you have some greater inside knowledge off his love of the game other than the age he started playing it.  If that is what your basing it on, then you really are becoming a crackpot.

k15
k15

I dont see how Watkins was a reach?  he was listed on every expert list as a "good" pick.  Sometimes these guys just arent good.  He was lost in Philly.

jsteppling
jsteppling

too soon to give up on danny watkins. Philly was not the right place. Now, maybe he does wash out....but miami is going to sign him and i bet he sticks. He was too good at baylor.

FeliciaFitzgerald
FeliciaFitzgerald

I'm having a tough time sympathizing with any former NFL player who gets a multi-million dollar settlement for any on-the-job injury - even if the NFL is a multi-billion dollar operation.

Compare this with industrial accidents in the fast food industry. McDonald's employees are far more likely to be seriously injured on the job (with serious burns happening almost daily worldwide). McDonald's is, of course, a much more profitable business than the NFL. However, McDonald's employees are grossly underpaid and get no medical benefits.

It's time to stop idolizing sports players and thinking it's OK for teams to give a contract of $275M for ten years to a single player. It's the fans that get $crewed in the end (Hello pre-season ticket that costs $300!)

BronzeBomber
BronzeBomber

Now that the concussion settlement is complete, can we all stop acting like players didn't know getting hit in the head was dangerous?

Mike26
Mike26

Re:  David Carr being signed.

He ceased to be a viable NFL QB by the end of his 3rd season and 150 sacks.  "Happy feet" in the pocket doesn't begin to describe him.

MarcieMargotti
MarcieMargotti

Thank you Peter King for your support of the cause for a cure for ALS. I lost my dad to ALS in 2006. (Marcie Trembulak Margotti)

Cornerss
Cornerss

whats inflation take that  $765 million spread over 20 years? This might as well have just been a loan for the NFL teams, they didn't learn anything from it. I would imagine just jersey sales eclipse that  number in a short time.

Mark20
Mark20

"I hate the one-game Wild Card in baseball. It devalues the 162-game season." Well, the only thing that could "devalue" a 162 game season, is a 162 game season. Ludicrous.

RonAglund
RonAglund

I think the most telling and sad part of this is the NFL will be paying about 200 million to the lawyers. If you have ALS you are capped at 5mil, Parkinson's 4mil, and Alzheimer and Dementia 3mil these are all max amounts and most won't receive near that.

...but the lawyers will get $200 million dollars...just for filing and representing the players....what's wrong here.

A handful of men will receive more than a 1/3 the amount going to a bunch of men with ALS, Alzherimers, etc ($75 mil goes to testing) to treat all these conditions. The rest will be spent on houses, expensive cars, etc...

ShifterKart
ShifterKart

"thinking about this man and how important it was to him that he provide for his family, that his children get the college education they deserve.”

The Turners were doing well before KT played pro ball. I am sure his kids would have gone to college regardless. (I lived in the town he was from, Prattville, Alabama, same HS etc.). Anyone in the US can get financial aid or Pell grants... They knew the risk they were taking just as drivers know their risk in racing.While I am not unsympathetic to the injured athletes, It seems to me it is like an Army Ranger suing the Gov. because they got wounded. Both know the risk and love what they do. not buying it myself, same as people who over spent and wanted a bailout because they could not pay for their house and maxed out their home loan as opposed to living within their means.

Thanks.

C-Diddy
C-Diddy

An old school New England liberal siding with management?  The apocalypse is upon us.

gary7
gary7

Where's the Peter King Challenge this year can't find it, he made me a ton of money by going against his picks

Piedra
Piedra

The math doesn't add to me. 685 million dollars for  4,500 players each one gets $152,000. If 171 get diagnosed Parkinson they will run out of money.

.

shingen
shingen

What a surprise, Peter King is carrying water for the NFL on the concussion lawsuit. 

timabuttle
timabuttle

Good Morning Peter. Normally I don't read items related to legal issues, but I read your column this morning about the settlement between the NFL and players regarding injuries. Great job. Kevin Turner is someone you root for and I agree that this settlement is best for everyone. I feel it is important for players to get help now rather than waiting years from now for help. Keep up the great work. Love the new format. Peace

Richard Long
Richard Long

The Raiders really tried to trade Kluwe?  A punter who failed to win the job for two teams in the past two years?  In the NFL, you never spend a draft pick on a punter, much less one that is on a decline.  Also, surprised Peter didn't note the Raiders whiff on Tyler Bray. For a team in cap he11 and in desperate need of good drafts, to cut your 4th round pick is pretty awful.  Raiders faithful who think Reggie is the answer, you may be asking the wrong question. 

JeffWBrown
JeffWBrown

OMG.  Peter King mentioned the Panthers in a column.  The world is ending.

slkinsey
slkinsey

I noted with interest the specific mentions of payouts for those who suffer from ALS and Parkinson's Disease, which seems to indicate an implied causative relationship.  I suppose it's possible I missed this somewhere along the way, but is there any solid statistical analysis showing that former NFL players suffer from ALS and Parkinson's Disease at higher rates that comparable segments of the general population?  Higher rates of Parkinsonism as a result of chronic traumatic encephalopathy makes some sense to me, so I wouldn't be surprised to see that, but I don't believe there any link has been established between ALS and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (or any other trauma).

DaveinPA
DaveinPA

@FeliciaFitzgerald  The example you gave of the contract of "$275M for ten years to a single player" is in baseball, not football. You're talking about the Alex Rodriguez contract. There is no contract in the NFL that is the same as Rodriguez's contract. By the way, in the NFL, contracts are not guaranteed; only their singing bonus is guaranteed.

Otherwise, I agree with your main point. :-)

Benjamin5
Benjamin5

@BronzeBomber so true   I mean what happened to being accountable for the choices one makes and assumption of risk?

MadDoser
MadDoser

@Mark20 Speak for yourself.  Some of us enjoy the whole 162 baseball season.

FeliciaFitzgerald
FeliciaFitzgerald

@RonAglund Why are you complaining about the injustice of paying lawyers $200M but no the injustice of paying NFL players (who BTW are all 1%-ers) millions of $$$ for potentially on-the-job injuries.

A construction worker that loses an arm will get a $10K settlement if s/he's lucky.

People need to get a grip...

LoriSandoval
LoriSandoval

@RonAglund The alternative to working on a contingency basis, where they only get paid if they win or settle successfully, is for the plaintiffs themselves to pay the legal fees as they go along.  In the latter case, the deep pockets of large corporate entities, who can afford to stretch out the litigation process until the plaintiffs are bankrupt, means that alot of people who deserved justice would be denied it.  Not fair, but reality.

Mike26
Mike26

@RonAglund 200 million IN ADDITION to the $$ going to the players will be paid separately to lawyers by the NFL. 

mystafugee
mystafugee

@C-Diddy he's always sided with management which is why he gets access.  Not saying it's right but that's how you gotta play the game with the NFL (see Playmakers and ESPN).

Mike26
Mike26

@Piedra The details are scant but all PK mentioned were maximums - no minimums.  Not everyone will receive the maximum, obviously.

Mike26
Mike26

@JeffWBrown The Panthers have been scraping the bottom of the NFL for years now.  Perhaps winning a few more games would earn more mention?

BrownRecluse
BrownRecluse

@slkinsey

Incorrect, CTE can cause Parkinson-like, or ALS-like, or Alzhemier's like disease manifestations, based on where most of the abnormal protein aggregates from the trauma (substantia-nigra- Parkinsons, frontal cortex, diffuse- Alzheimers).  TDP43,  an abnormal protein, is found in ALS as well as people with CTE who develop ALS (Kevin Turner).

Mike26
Mike26

@mystafugee @C-Diddy mysta:  That's how you play the game with ANY large corporation - it's NOT exclusive to the NFL.

a52wkhi
a52wkhi

But that doesnt mean that they develop ALS.

a52wkhi
a52wkhi

Read all that. Not convinced. Mckee's sample size was only 12, laughably small. What's more, other cases of hers included victims of accidental gunshot while cleaning his gun and another victim dying from a high speed police chase. Even worse for your argument, Mckee concedes..quoting her.."CTE is a neuropathologically distinct" from ALS.

BrownRecluse
BrownRecluse

Looks like you have already failed. I'll help slightly and then stop wasting my time.

Step 1: Google "CTE and ALS." 

The first hit, the wikipedia article on CTE, mentions the link between ALS and CTE and the research performed on it by McKee's group in Boston.  (Reference #59)

Step 2: Using Pubmed, you can search for several articles, done by McKee's group and others. 

Step 3: Read the literature and make your own conclusions.  You will also need to read about TDP43 in ALS for things to make sense.

I'm sure you will offer the same clumsy causality argument, but the actual contention is that CTE is associated with an ALS-like clinical picture (much like CTE and Alzheimer's-like disease and CTE and Parkinson's-like disease), in some players, Kevin Turner being the most high profile case. 

a52wkhi
a52wkhi

Try as I might, I still can't find ANY evidence that CTE causes ALS. Please provide evidence for your claim.

BrownRecluse
BrownRecluse

@a52wkhi Tell that to Kevin Turner- a guy who had to retire early due to head trauma then develops ALS.  I'm sure he cares whether you think it's causation or correlation. The NFL certainly didn't, and gave him the highest payout of any of the implicated illnesses (5M).

I'm a pathologist who has followed the story and the medical literature since Dr. Bennet Omalu wrote up his first case of the late Mike Webster having CTE.  I've made my own conclusions.  I suggest you do the same, then get back to me.

a52wkhi
a52wkhi

It's the old rule...correlation is not causation.

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