Remember Jim McMahon? The brash quarterback who took the Chicago Bears to the Superbowl in 1986? He wore sunglasses, had spiky hair, mouthed off to league officials and even once mooned a news camera in a helicopter flying over practice.
Today he’s in his mid-50s and he has early-stage dementia.
McMahon is one of 4,500 former players who sued the National Football League, arguing they have injuries related to on-field concussions. The NFL agreed to pay them $765 million, a settlement which still needs to be approved by a judge.
Also involved in the lawsuit are families of players like Junior Seau who committed suicide and was later found to have a brain disease called CTE, which has been linked to concussions.
Attorneys for the former players argued that the league, which markets its hard hits to avid fans, deliberately covered up the dangers to keep its players on the field and protect its image. It’s a charge McMahon agrees with.
“They knew about it and they didn't tell us,” he said, “That's just like flat-out lying to you, looking in your face and lying to you.”
And that allegation is a big part of why the settlement is so controversial.
The NFL, which is admitting no wrongdoing, won’t have to open its files and won’t be forced to explain things like its so-called “mild traumatic brain injury committee” which was led not by a brain doctor but by a rheumatologist.
But the size of the settlement is also part of why it’s so controversial. Each of the league's 19,000 former players will be eligible for a medical exam. Those with cognitive impairment will get further testing and treatment. And those with serious illnesses will get up to $5 million.
There is one more important issue that critics are raising. The settlement does not include anything to force the NFL to make safety changes to prevent future concussions. So when the season kicks off next week, it will be business as usual.
Experts we spoke with say this settlement has raised awareness about a lingering issue that is not going away. So next week at kick-off, perhaps fans will pause for a moment, and reflect on the real price of the hits so many of us love.