Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher did great things as a player. Something he recently said does a great disservice to other men who played the game.
Urlacher, appearing on the Bussin’ With the Boys podcast, made a bold claim regarding the motivations of some former players who seek benefits for head trauma suffered during their playing careers.
“Here’s the problem now with all the guys with the CTE,” Urlacher said, via Mediate.com, “if they do have it, I feel for them, but there’s guys who say they have it just so they can be in the fucking lawsuit.”
It’s rare to see so few words contain so many flaws.
First, there is no “lawsuit.” No one is suing the league at this point. The class action was settled, years ago. The settlement makes all players who retired before final certification of the class eligible for potential benefits.
Second, there’s no way anyone can prove that they have CTE while they are still alive. It’s a condition that can be diagnosed only after a person dies. So if a guy says, as Urlacher claims, that he has CTE, the compensation will come only after he dies — and after an analysis of his brain confirms it.
Third, the settlement has created a specific process for assessing a range of real cognitive problems for which compensation is available. If impairment can be proven, the player gets compensation based on the type of condition, along with a specific formula that takes the length of the career into account.
Is it possible that some players could be overstating their health issues in an effort to qualify for compensation? Sure. But the procedures surely have been crafted to separate phony claims from real ones. To prevent, as Urlacher put it, guys who say they have issues “just so they can be in the fucking lawsuit.”
It’s odd that Urlacher would make broad, reckless comments that could undermine the efforts of players to get fair compensation, and that could influence fans and/or media to wonder whether some players are running a scam. How does it hurt Urlacher if other players believe they have cognitive impairment, and if they hope to recover the compensation to which they would be entitled if they do? The NFL already has agreed to fund, without limitation, any payments to those players who properly qualify. It’s not as if someone making a false or exaggerated claim will result in less money for Urlacher.
For years, the NFL actively downplayed the risks of head trauma. The lengths to which the league went to delay the reckoning were shameful. It was, in some respects, no different than tobacco executives claiming with a straight race that nicotine isn’t addictive. Eventually, as it always does, the reckoning arrived for the league.
Faced with a massive lawsuit that potentially would have forced the NFL to allow full exploration of what it knew, when it knew it, and how it went about covering it all up, the league agreed to a settlement with very simple terms. If a player has a qualifying condition, he gets benefits — no questions asked. He doesn’t have to prove he got the condition from football. He doesn’t have to prove that he wouldn’t have kept playing football even if the NFL had fully disclosed all the risks. He just needs to show that he has a qualifying condition, at any point in his life.
Why would Urlacher feel compelled to complain about former players thinking that maybe they’re entitled to their fair share of the compensation the NFL agreed to make available in order to, among other things, escape opening its files? Again, it doesn’t affect Urlacher at all.
So, to anyone out there who sees or hears what Urlacher said, ignore it. The men who played the game in the years before the NFL took steps to protect them or, at a minimum, to properly explain the risks have the absolute right to seek compensation for any potentially qualifying conditions. As part of that right, they’re also allowed to try, and perhaps fail, to get what they have earned through a lifetime of sacrificing their bodies and brains for the game.
Most importantly, they’re entitled not to be shamed for doing so — even by former players who are also eligible to seek such benefits.