Ex-Vikings know NFL concussion deal will prompt hard choices

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 11, 2014 - 5:36 AM
hide

Matt Blair, the former Minnesota Vikings All-Pro linebacker who is now 63 and has increasing trouble remembering things.

Photo: CARLOS GONZALEZ • cgonzalez@startribune.com,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Somewhere in the 163-page National Football League concussion settlement there is presumably help for Matt Blair, the former Minnesota Vikings All-Pro linebacker who is now 63 and has increasing memory problems.

Blair said he played through two concussions during his football days, although compared with some of his Vikings teammates he feels fortunate he can continue a freelance photography career. But he said his forgetfulness goes beyond what someone his age should be experiencing. “If someone tells me something right away, I just don’t remember it right away,” said Blair, who said he has not been medically diagnosed with a memory-loss disease. “I can feel it and know that it shouldn’t be that way.”

Critics of the settlement, which a federal judge in Pennsylvania tentatively approved Monday, said Blair is typical of many of the estimated 20,000 former NFL players who will be asked to endorse the plan: They will have to decide whether to accept it before knowing whether they will ever get a dime from it.

Chris Seeger, the co-lead counsel for the retired NFL players who are supporting the settlement, said however that Blair and others like him will also need to think about something else: If they opt out of the agreement, they will be on their own in trying to prove that any dementia or other brain trauma was caused by playing in the NFL. Under the agreement, any former player with an approved diagnosis will not have to show that the injury came from playing in the NFL.

“It offers [Blair] a lot,” Seeger, speaking from New Jersey, said of the settlement.

With the legal battle lines now drawn — and with former players having until Oct. 14 to opt out of the deal — lawyers are trying to sell the plan as the best deal they will likely get from the NFL, while other attorneys will be trying to amass enough opt outs to undermine the settlement.

Since 2011, more than 5,000 former players have filed concussion-related lawsuits against the NFL, and the settlement’s effects will be felt among hundreds of former Vikings and University of Minnesota and other local college players who had NFL careers. One early lawsuit, featuring 370 former players, included former Vikings Jim Marshall and Fred McNeill.

Former Gopher tight end Ben Utecht testified before the Senate Committee on Aging in Washington in June regarding concussions. Matt Birk, the former Vikings center who has assumed a high profile on player issues since retiring, said he had at least three football-related concussions.

“I think the only money that the NFL will ever pay on concussion-related injuries are in this settlement,” said Seeger, who acknowledged he is concerned that attorneys opposed to the proposal will be working to convince players not to accept it. Seeger said that should final approval come by Jan. 1, some former players could obtain money by next April or May.

Increasing problems

Nearly 30 years after retiring from football, Blair talked haltingly from his home in suburban Plymouth about the settlement and said he often gets annoyed at himself over his forgetfulness. “Just little things really kick my butt,” he said. He also talked of McNeill, whom he called his “best friend” on the team, and how McNeill now “can’t be left alone” because of a debilitating illness related to dementia.

Blair remembered his own football concussions but also recalled shrugging them off at the time. “I’ve had concussions, but I went on and finished my career,” said Blair, an All-America at Iowa State University. Blair was a second-round draft choice for the Vikings in 1974, was selected for six consecutive Pro Bowls (1977-82) and played in two Super Bowls.

At 6-5, 235-pounds, Blair was known for his athleticism and speed that helped result in 20 blocked kicks — third most in NFL history.

He remains fit physically, but he says the forgetfulness seems to have worsened in recent years. “In the past, it was OK. Right now, it’s getting a little bit worse,” he said. “My wife, half the time, [she says] ‘Don’t you remember what I said?’

“I’m just thinking, well, it could be part of the concussion side of it,” said Blair. Three years ago, Blair lobbied lawmakers in Iowa to pass legislation to protect children from traumatic head injuries. “I just know something has been happening here, the last three or four years,” he said of his own situation.

The proposed settlement would most help those with brain injuries diagnosed at a younger age — a former player under age 45 with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease could get as much as $3.5 million. A former player over age 65 with the same diagnosis could get no more than $620,000.

CTE plan an issue

The proposal also would help those who played longer. Monetary awards would be reduced for those who played for less than five NFL seasons. If a former player played in only four eligible seasons, the amount of money would be reduced by 20 percent. Three eligible seasons would lead to a 40 percent reduction.

  • related content

  • Sept. 16, 2012: The truth behind Wally Hilgenberg's death

    Monday September 17, 2012

    Wally Hilgenberg's family gave his brain for research in Boston. What they've learned has made them uneasy with a sport central to their lives.

  • Not yet 10 and risking football concussions

    Friday September 5, 2014

    Children are not immune from head injuries, forcing hard choices.

  • Matt Blair, center, said he played through two concussions while with the Minnesota Vikings.

  • Blair showed some of the damage his body sustained in his playing days in the NFL. Blair said he played through two concussions during his career.

  • Matt Blair, the former Vikings All-Pro linebacker who is now 63, said he has increasing trouble remembering things, such as names of people.

  • NFL SETTLEMENT

    key terms of deal

    • NFL would pay $765 million plus legal costs but admit no wrongdoing. More than 5,000 ex-players sued.

    • Cap of $5 million for a player with ALS disease.

    • Cap of $4 million for a death from chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

    • Cap of $3 million for a player with moderate dementia.

    • Money would go toward medical exams and compensation for NFL retirees and families; $10 million to medical research.

    • Senior U.S. District Judge Anita Brody in Philadelphia must approve it.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Utah 6:00 PM
Orlando
Charlotte 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Brooklyn 6:30 PM
Cleveland
Washington 6:30 PM
Miami
Minnesota 6:30 PM
Boston
Toronto 6:30 PM
Detroit
Chicago 7:00 PM
Memphis
Portland 7:00 PM
San Antonio
LA Clippers 8:00 PM
Denver
Oklahoma City 9:30 PM
LA Lakers
Tampa Bay 6:00 PM
New Jersey
Anaheim 6:30 PM
Ottawa
NY Islanders 6:30 PM
Detroit
Boston 7:00 PM
Winnipeg
Dallas 8:00 PM
Calgary
Wilberforce 67 2nd Half 0:52
Youngstown St 90
Jackson State 18 2nd Half 20:00
Tulane 25
Siena 5:00 PM
Radford
Stillman 6:00 PM
Alabama
Case Western Reserve 6:00 PM
Bucknell
Niagara 6:00 PM
Buffalo
SD Christian 6:00 PM
UC Santa Barbara
Concordia (MI) 6:00 PM
Central Mich
Northern Ill 6:00 PM
Dartmouth
North Florida 6:00 PM
Florida A&M
Hiwassee 6:00 PM
Gardner-Webb
Tennessee St 6:00 PM
Hampton
NC A&T 6:00 PM
Kent State
Central Penn College 6:00 PM
Liberty
Bethune-Cookman 6:00 PM
Mercer
Eastern Ky 6:00 PM
Miami-Florida
Northern Ky 6:00 PM
Morehead State
Northern Ariz 6:00 PM
Norfolk State
MD-Eastern Shore 6:00 PM
Old Dominion
St Marys-CA 6:00 PM
St Johns
Clemson 6:00 PM
South Carolina
Tenn Tech 6:00 PM
Tennessee
Washington-MD 6:00 PM
William & Mary
Furman 6:30 PM
Fla Gulf Coast
South Dakota St 6:30 PM
CS-Bakersfield
Milligan 7:00 PM
Lamar
LSU-Alexandria 7:00 PM
ULM
Southern Utah 7:00 PM
Loyola-Chicago
Chattanooga 7:00 PM
Middle Tennessee
Seattle 7:00 PM
Minnesota
Lipscomb 7:00 PM
Princeton
Winthrop 7:00 PM
SE Louisiana
Dickinson State 7:00 PM
North Dakota
New Orleans 7:05 PM
Southern Ill
TX-Pan American 8:00 PM
Creighton
Colorado State 8:00 PM
Denver
Alabama A&M 8:00 PM
Marquette
Ark-Pine Bluff 8:00 PM
Texas Tech
Eastern Wash 9:00 PM
California
Idaho State 9:05 PM
Utah State
Arizona 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Hawaii 10:59 PM
Chaminade
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Louisiana
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
UCF
Ohio Valley 33 FINAL
Youngstown St 84
East Tenn St 48 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 61
Cal-Irvine 44 FINAL
Purdue 69
Campbell 63 FINAL
Stetson 76
Louisiana 1:00 PM
Alcorn State
Jacksonville St 58 2nd Half 10:20
Charleston Southern 23
Denver 27 2nd Half
Wright State 37
Texas State 2:00 PM
Bethune-Cookman
Blue Mountain 8 1st Half 12:20
Central Arkansas 17
Albany 3:00 PM
Pepperdine
TX-San Antonio 3:00 PM
Houston
Yale 3:30 PM
Bucknell
Northern Colorado 3:30 PM
Fla Gulf Coast
Belmont 4:00 PM
Mercer
Massachusetts 4:00 PM
Georgia State
George Mason 4:05 PM
Winthrop
Portland State 4:30 PM
Princeton
UCLA 5:00 PM
Samford
Mobile 5:00 PM
Alabama State
Nicholls 5:30 PM
Texas Tech
Toledo 5:30 PM
Nevada
UMass Lowell 5:30 PM
(13) Duke
St Marys-CA 6:00 PM
Virginia
McNeese State 6:00 PM
Rice
McMurry 6:00 PM
Houston Baptist
NJIT 6:00 PM
Seton Hall
(6) North Carolina 6:00 PM
Maine
Lafayette 6:00 PM
Stony Brook
Siena 6:00 PM
Binghamton
Longwood 6:00 PM
Clemson
Savannah State 6:00 PM
Florida State
(19) Syracuse 6:00 PM
(9) Baylor
Buffalo 6:00 PM
Manhattan
Ohio U 6:00 PM
La Salle
Canisius 6:00 PM
Michigan
Davidson 6:00 PM
NC State
Northern Ky 6:00 PM
Delaware
Saint Louis 6:30 PM
Austin Peay
(25) DePaul 6:30 PM
(2) Connecticut
Florida Atlantic 7:00 PM
Long Beach St
Miami-Florida 7:00 PM
Tulane
Miss Valley St 7:00 PM
Memphis
Ark-Pine Bluff 7:00 PM
UAB
Bowling Green 7:05 PM
Illinois State
Arkansas State 7:05 PM
Missouri State
ULM 7:05 PM
Wichita State
(16) Oregon State 8:00 PM
Southern Ill
Utah Valley U 8:30 PM
Montana
Pacific 9:00 PM
New Mexico St
No Dakota State 9:00 PM
Cal State Fullerton
Utah State 9:00 PM
Sacramento St
Bethesda (CA) 9:00 PM
Fresno State
LSU 9:30 PM
UC Santa Barbara
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Will Christian Ponder ever be a full-time starter in the NFL?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close