Over the past few months, I've
been receiving emails from former NFL Player, Fred Willis. His emails have been
making the rounds among former NFL players. Fred Willis is the CEO of a company
called HP Neurologic. He has been peddling his new treatments for players with
CTE, even though the scientific community has never agreed that there is a
valid test for diagnosing CTE in living persons. Nonetheless he's been trying
to convince people that he has the best treatment for CTE and other cognitive
He's also a harsh critic of the
NFL Concussion Settlement. In his email, he made a list of what he called
"Facts" related to the NFL Concussion Settlement. Of course, when one actually
reads them it's clear that they are little more than a biased tirade against
Everyone is entitled to their own
opinion, but not their own facts.
Here are the facts that Mr. Willis
lists in his email to former players under what he called "Burden of
Proof". I have taken the liberty of
providing my opinion under each of
his so called "facts."
WILLIS "FACT": The burden of proof is on the NFL
retired players to prove debilitating brain injury.
MY OPINION: Of
course the burden is on us to prove our debilitating brain injuries. Does Mr.
Willis really think that the NFL should prove our case for us? If we had continued our litigation against
the NFL (and for players that opt out of the Settlement), that is exactly what we
would need to prove to a judge and jury. The Settlement makes it easier for
former players to prove their injuries because it sets aside 75 million to help
us get evaluated and diagnosed by independent neurologists and
neuropsychologists. Most former players could never afford to pay for the cost
of these medical evaluations which may include MRI's / CT Scans and other
costly examinations and tests.
Additionally, we don't have to prove that our brain injuries
were caused by playing in NFL. This was an enormous
victory that class counsel won from the NFL during settlement negotiations. If
former players had continued this litigation, they would have not only been
forced to prove their injuries, but they would need to prove "causation," and
convince a jury that their injuries were caused
by their time in the NFL. That would be no easy task, especially when you
consider that many players spent more time playing football in high school and
college than in the NFL. And, thanks to the NFL's shoddy record-keeping, many
of us also had few, if any, recorded concussions.
However, thanks to courage of the players who stepped
forward to sue the League, no injured player will need to prove causation in
order to receive an award under this Settlement.
WILLIS "FACT": It
is highly unlikely that any NFL retired football player has not sustained
multiple concussions/traumatic brain injuries resulting in some combination of
cognitive and emotional problems.
MY OPINION: So what is Mr. Willis suggesting - that all 20,000
former players should be compensated? It sounds good, but the NFL would
never have agreed to that in a Settlement.
Think about it..........most former players were aware of the
lawsuits that were being filed against the NFL, but out of the 20,000 former
players that were covered by the Settlement, only around 5,000 actually filed
lawsuits claiming that they had some type of cognitive impairment. There were over 15,000 former players that did
not even file a lawsuit.
Probably because they didn't feel they were having cognitive
or emotional problems that were affecting their ability to function. Also, a relatively small number of them
worked for the NFL, or one of the Networks, or some other company that does
business with the NFL, so they probably felt that a lawsuit might hurt their
relationship. Guys like Dan Marino might fall into this category.
I should also note that many of the former players that filed
lawsuits were not as concerned about their current cognitive problems as they
were about the future cognitive problems they might develop. Remember, research
has shown that former players are more likely than the general population to
develop cognitive impairments later in life.
Many of the former players that filed lawsuits, including
myself, wanted to make sure that a monitoring and evaluation system was put in
place so that we could get baseline examinations. Then if we started to develop
problems down the road, we could still be compensated. The Settlement provides this for the next 65
years. For many former players, this is like an insurance policy.
WILLIS "FACT": The settlement agreement is clear
that traumatic brain injury even if resulting in drastic permanent deficits in
cognition does not necessarily entitle a player to a monetary award.
MY OPINION: Mr. Willis doesn't tell us what he considers to be
"drastic permanent deficits" but the Settlement Agreementis perfectly clear that you will be
compensated – especially for drastic permanent impairments like Level
2 Neurocognitive Impairment (i.e., moderate Dementia) or Level 1.5
Neurocognitive Impairment (i.e., early Dementia), ALS, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's
Disease. Former players will also
receive free treatment and prescriptions if they have symptoms that do not rise
to the level of a compensatory award.
WILLIS "FACT": The settlement agreement will
exclude most class members from any meaningful recovery.
MY OPINION: It's true
that most class members will not receive an immediate cash award, but does Mr.
Willis really think that the NFL should agree to compensate every single
retired player whether they are injured or not?
The fact is, however, that the
settlement still benefits every one of us - even those who haven't experienced
a single symptom. Every one of us is eligible for a baseline examination, and
every one of us benefits from the guarantee that, should we develop dementia,
Alzheimer's or another impairment down the road, we will be taken care of.
After all, what is he suggesting -
that former players opt out and go back to suing the NFL? Even if players get past the legal arguments and
the case goes to trial, what is the jury going to do when they find out these
players opted out of an uncapped Settlement because it didn't provide
enough money? The public has not been
sympathetic to players that have filed suit. All you have to do is look at the
comments that are posted under articles related to this issue. These are same
people that will be sitting in judgment of former players. Not a comforting
WILLIS "FACT": Psychological/Psychiatric
consequences of brain injury do not qualify for a monetary award.
MY OPINION: It is true
that not everyone experiencing a symptom will be compensated under this deal.
But that was an impossible goal – the NFL was simply not going to agree to
compensate every single former player experiencing depression, headaches or
other symptoms that do not involve Cognitive Impairment. Furthermore, it was
not the purpose of this lawsuit to win compensation for everybody.
The point of this lawsuit was to get help for the guys who really need it
today, provide the rest of us with state-of-the-art medical examinations and,
finally, ensure that all of us will be protected if we begin to lose our
cognitive faculties in the future.
WILLIS "FACT": Most
players will receive nothing or next to nothing at all, and many will have to
endure a likely difficult and foreseeably frustrating process for the little
that they receive.
MY OPINION: What kind of process would Mr.
Willis like to see – one where a player just says he's injured and he gets a
big bag of money? I think most former
players want a fair system of assessment and evaluation established – and the
Settlement will do that. I don't want to
see guys "playing" the system and getting money for nothing, but I do want to
see guys getting paid for legitimate cognitive impairments.
The Settlement provides for a very neutral and independent
process and most importantly - Continual Court Oversight. Judge Anita Brody - who has been very
sympathetic to former players and in fact was a driving force behind the
improved, uncapped deal announced in July – will not let the NFL get away with
any obstruction or excessive appeals that thwart a former player's ability to
collect an award for a legitimate cognitive impairment.
WILLIS "FACT": Spousal benefits are almost
non-existent and likely too small to fight for.
MY OPINION: Mr. Willis
is just plain wrong. The spouses and widows of deceased or incapacitated
players who qualify for compensation will be eligible to receive an award on
behalf of their husband.
Furthermore, Mr. Willis is clearly
not familiar with the wives of former players - and what they are willing to
fight for. Women like Sylvia Mackey and Mary Ann Easterling will do whatever is
necessary to get what they are rightfully entitled to receive - and former
players will stand behind them, just like we did when many of them were
excluded from the Legacy Benefit.
WILLIS "FACT": Although player suicides have highlighted the
player concussion issue, no psychological/psychiatric condition that leads to
suicide, qualifies a player for any monetary award.
MY OPINION: Both parties agreed that death with
CTE would only be provided to those former players that committed suicide before
the Settlement received preliminary approval.
And for good reason - the parties to the Settlement did not want to
provide any incentive for former players to kill themselves in the hopes that
their brains would be autopsied and show signs of CTE – thereby making their
families eligible for a compensatory award. How can anyone argue with that decision?
WILLIS "FACT": The
settlement agreement is clear that traumatic brain injury even if resulting in
drastic permanent deficits in cognition does not necessarily entitle a player
to a monetary award.
MY OPINION: In his email, Mr. Willis stated this twice.
Maybe he thinks that by saying something over and over again it will somehow
make it true...................It doesn't.
WILLIS "FACT": The class action attorneys are
seeking $112.5 Million Dollars for their attorney fees.
MY OPINION: Wow.......what a revelation - attorneys getting
paid to represent their clients! Mr.
Willis conveniently forgets to mention that, while in most class action
Settlements the fees come out of the Settlement, but in this case, the NFL
agreed to pay those fees outside of the Settlement. He also neglects to mention
that the players' compensation fund is fully uncapped, so every class member can rest assured that, should he
need it, the money will be there to compensate him.
WILLIS "FACT": In
summary, what has been negotiated will be for many, if not most class members a
frustrating and disappointing pathway to relatively minimal recoveries at best.
MY OPINION: Tell that to the hundreds of players
and their families that will be receiving substantial awards as soon as the
Settlement receives final approval. Among others, I'm talking about all of the
guys that are currently in the 88 Plan. Even though some former players may not
receive anything right away, Mr. Willis does not have a crystal ball to look
into the future and see what will happen to us as we get older. I pray to God
that I never have to receive one nickel of compensation from the NFL Concussion
Settlement, but even so, I like the assurance that there will be something for
me – and my family - if I do start to develop serious cognitive
In closing, I
want former players to know that the decision to stay in the Settlement,
Object, or Opt Out rests entirely on you and your family's shoulders. You need
to know all the "true facts" before you make a decision. Here is the link to
the NFL Concussion Settlement website where you can read all of the facts,
court documents and frequently asked questions: https://www.nflconcussionsettlement.com/
If someone is
urging you to opt out of the Settlement, make sure they are telling you exactly
what will happen - after you make that decision.