Though U.S. District Judge Anita Brody said Monday she endorsed the revised proposal in part because a $675 million monetary award cap for NFL payments was removed, other controversies in the plan remain.
One involves chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated trauma that is a suspected leading cause of football-related head injuries. Some of the NFL’s most celebrated players — including former San Diego Charger Junior Seau, who committed suicide — had CTE diagnosed. Locally, former Vikings linebacker Wally Hilgenberg died in 2008 and was later diagnosed with CTE after a long career that included playing — at one point, with Blair — on the Vikings’ Super Bowl teams of the 1970s.
Under the plan, former players with a CTE diagnosis can get a maximum payment of $4 million — but the proposal would make CTE payments only following a formal diagnosis after a player’s death.
The controversy over CTE was intensified early last year when researchers at UCLA, in a pilot study, found images of the protein that causes brain damage in living players — a sign that scientists may be close to diagnosing CTE in living patients.
Bob Stein, a former Vikings player and attorney who is now representing onetime NFL players, criticized the settlement’s position on CTE. “Why would you exclude the diagnosis that appears to be the most prevalent [in] virtually all retired players so far who have died and had autopsies done?” he asked.
“Is there technology in medicine to identify it while you’re living? It appears that that’s either available, or on the horizon,” Stein added.
Seeger said the CTE questions missed a larger point: The proposed settlement would give monetary awards to an array of conditions — including early and moderate dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis [ALS] and Parkinson’s disease — that in many cases are symptoms of CTE. Awards for ALS, under the settlement, could reach $5 million per player.
“If you have any of these diseases, [whether] you have CTE or not, you get paid,” said Seeger.
Blair was one of the stars in Super Bowl IX — he blocked a punt that was recovered in the end zone for the Vikings’ only points in a 16-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now, he said, he has trouble remembering his teammates’ names. “[That] affects me, big time,” Blair said. “I can’t even remember half their names.’’
Blair said he intends to study the proposed settlement and hopes the NFL has the best interests of its players at heart. “I don’t know how that’s going to come into play,” he said of the settlement. The NFL “should drop back down and help the ones that created” the league. “They need to give us a little bit more money.”
Mike Kaszuba • 612-673-4388