The NFL concussion lawsuit moved close to resolution last week — see below for analysis — but don’t be deceived into thinking this settles courtroom challenges. Football remains in a legal quicksand that has the potential to drag the sport under. The big concern has never been the NFL, which has only a small number of current and retired players, and can buy its way out of any difficulty. The issue is the 3 million youth players, 1.1 million high school players and approximately 50,000 college players.
Unlike NFL players who are well-compensated and are adults when they assume risk, the overwhelming majority of football players receive nothing and are children when they assume risk. Except for those who matriculated at football factories, most football players suit up for sponsoring organizations that cannot buy their way out of problems: youth leagues, public school districts and colleges whose athletic departments lose money.
If youth leagues, public school districts and colleges that are already in the red on sports start paying brain-damage awards, they’ll stop sponsoring football. They won’t have any choice — insurers will drop them. This, not the NFL’s litigation maneuvering, is the nuclear bomb ticking in football. Consider:
A teen partially paralyzed at a Colorado football practice just won a $11.5 million judgment against his high school district, some school personnel and the Riddell helmet company. Last year, San Diego school district agreed to pay $4.4 million to a man who was a teenaged high school football player when he suffered a severe brain injury.