By Steve Keating
NEW YORK, Jan 31 (Reuters) - NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said on Friday he is confident the proposed concussion settlement between the league and players will be approved despite a U.S. judge's hesitation to sign off on the deal.
The $760 million settlement between the National Football League and thousands of former players, who contend the league downplayed the risk of concussions, was rejected earlier this month by U.S. District Judge Anita Brody who was worried it might not be enough to pay all of the affected players.
Brody called on the NFL and plaintiffs to submit documentation that they believed showed the money set aside was adequate to meet the potential need.
The judge's move reflects her responsibility to ensure that it is fair both to the named plaintiffs and others covered in the class.
"She (Brody) is taking her time making sure the settlement that was agreed to between the plaintiffs and our attorneys...is going to work the way we intend it to work," Goodell told a large group of reporters during his annual state of the league address ahead of Sunday's Super Bowl between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks. "The number one thing for us right now is to get the money in place so we can help the players and their families if they need it.
"That is our priority.
Goodell added: "We are working with Judge Brody, we're working with all of her experts to convince her and the plaintiffs...that the settlement we reached can provide the kind of benefits we intended.
"And we're confident we will get there."
The proposed deal, reached in August, had set aside up to $5 million for each former player diagnosed with a certain brain condition as a result of their years on the playing field.
More than 4,500 former players were named plaintiffs in the lawsuit and up to 20,000 could ultimately be eligible for some payment.
There have been suicides in recent years by current and former NFL players, including Jovan Belcher, Junior Seau, Ray Easterling and Dave Duerson. While their deaths could not be directly connected to the sport, violent or erratic behavior is consistent with symptoms of a condition tied to repeated hits to the head.
A growing body of academic research shows those hits can lead to a condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which can result in aggression and dementia.
The research has already prompted the NFL to make changes on the field, including banning the most dangerous helmet-to-helmet hits and requiring teams to keep players who have taken hits to the head off the field if they show certain symptoms including dizziness and memory gaps. (Reporting by Steve Keating in New York, Editing by Gene Cherry)