The NFL is one step closer to compensating retired players who've filed a class-action lawsuit after sustaining dangerous concussions during their playing days.
A federal district court judge approved a settlement between the two sides this week, signing off on a deal that could distribute over $900 million to 5,000 former players. Many of those players now have a variety of neurological disorders, and some argue that the settlement should cover a broader range of conditions (like memory loss and irritability).
Nevertheless, attorneys Christopher Seeger and Sol Weiss said they viewed the decision as an important accomplishment.
"Today, these courageous men and their families have made history," they said to CNN. "Despite the difficult health situations retired players face today, and that many more will unfortunately face in the future, they can take comfort that this settlement's benefits will be available soon, and will last for decades to come."
Now the decision awaits an appeal process that could significantly delay the distribution of benefits.
As Seeger and Weiss put it, "If any objector appeals the final approval order, however, no benefits will become available until this process is exhausted — which will take months, if not years to resolve."
Judge Anita B. Brody, who approved the settlement, had previously requested that both sides revise their agreement on two different occasions. That may weigh against any attempt to appeal her decision.
University of Pennsylvania sports business professor and lawyer Scott Rosner said he believes that most criticisms of the deal have already been addressed.
"My sense is that the appellate court in this instance will give some pretty significant deference to Judge Brody," he said, per The New York Times. "This is a bit of a long shot."
While the NFL required the settlement to cover all retirees in a bid to prevent future lawsuits, around 200 former players — including the family of the late Junior Seau — have opted out of the agreement. They're preserving their rights to take future legal action against the league.
Many observers, however, believe the settlement is an undeniable victory for the players.
New York University sports law and management professor Robert Boland told USA Today that "It is a substantial settlement that doesn't admit fault and doesn't unturn or test any legal precedent that the NFL might have in its favor."
Boland added, "With a lot of precedent against the plaintiffs legally speaking, the settlement represents a here-and-now victory for these players, and they can begin to get benefits. This resolved this very much in what I would describe as a manner that will be cognizant and good to the needs of the plaintiffs and also in a way that it's not overly expensive to the sport's present tense, economically."
Concussions occur when there's an injury to the brain caused by a blow to the head. They can initially result in temporary loss of normal braining functioning, and a growing body of research suggests that this may increase the risk of long-term neurological conditions.