Days before the start of the football season, the NFL announced Thursday that it has reached a tentative $765 million settlement with former players over brain disorders they suffered, an agreement that Boston brain researchers hailed as a positive outcome that could improve medical care and research in this field.
Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy—which has a brain bank of deceased athletes to study the impact of repeated blows to the head—released a statement saying it was “pleased” by the settlement. “The settlement includes much needed medical care and monitoring of former players, as well as a commitment to research funding,” read the statement.
The settlement, which needs to be approved by a federal judge, covers more than 4,500 former players, many suffering from dementia, mood disorders, or other physical problems thought to be caused by lasting brain injuries due to repeat concussions. In addition to compensating players and their families, the settlement will set aside $10 million for research.
This is in addition to the $100 million that the NFL Players Association pledged to Harvard University last January to study a wide range of injuries involving NFL athletes and effective ways to prevent them.
Dr. Peter Warinner, director of sports neurology and concussion at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, agreed that the settlement is “probably good for the players who have suffered and should be compensated for their injuries.” But he said he doesn’t support “it being used as evidence to prove cause and effect between repeat head traumas and long-term injuries.”
Researchers still haven’t been able to firmly connect the dots between repeat concussions, traumatic brain injury, and an Alzheimer’s-like condition, called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which occurs years after players retire.
“For years, these have been labeled concussion lawsuits, when there’s no strong science to support this cause-and-effect relationship,” Warinner said. He had no involvement with any parties involved in the settlement.
Certain players could have genetic predispositions that make them more likely to suffer a permanent brain injury from a sharp blow to the head, whether falling off a bike or getting tackled. “There are those who may have thousands of concussive blows and never have a problem with CTE later on,” he said. “It is still poorly understood.”
Warinner added that there’s a strong possibility that the type of tackling and head trauma that occurs during the NFL season can cause devastating, lasting brain injuries in some players. But he’d like to know where the $10 million in research funds will be directed. The NFL hasn’t yet released details on how the funds will be dispersed.