Former National Football League players who are covered under the $1 billion concussion settlement are worried that they are not going to see any money.
Ex-players, including Jets defensive end Mark Gastineau, say the NFL has delayed many cases through appeals and audits of their medical claims. Gastineau says he needs the funds and wants the league’s commissioner to expedite the proceeds.
“We want to ask Roger Goodell one question,” said Gastineau, 61. “Why are you dragging this out?”
The NFL defended its appeals, saying, “We believe that it is entirely appropriate to continue to oppose fraudulent and unsupported claims.”
But the former players say they don’t trust the NFL, citing the league’s history of downplaying the long-term effects of head trauma that led to the lawsuit and settlement.
Former Giant Leonard Marshall, 56, who also was part of the settlement, characterized the NFL’s strategy in fighting these payouts as “delay, deny, hope they die.”
The issue escalated this past week as players and their attorneys filed court briefs claiming that Christopher Seeger — the attorney who represents the players as a group — isn’t doing enough to stand up to the NFL.
Seeger said the NFL has paid more money in the first year of the settlement than it estimated it would in the first five years. The NFL says it has paid more than $200 million in benefits “and more claims are being approved every month.’’
Attorney Gene Locks, who says he represents 1,100 players, said Seeger’s firm “cannot address the current threats to implementation” by the NFL’s actions and asked the federal judge overseeing the settlement to let his firm have the same “rights and duties” as Seeger so the players can collectively put forth a stronger fight against the NFL.
Another attorney, Peter Shahriari, said “the settlement is broken’’ and has been pushed by the NFL “to the brink of collapse.”
All of this has left Gastineau and other former players disillusioned.
The former Jet, best known for being a leader on the team’s vaunted New York Sack Exchange of the 1980s, said he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dementia in 2016. Gastineau said he is waiting to receive an award as a part of the settlement, but the NFL is appealing his Parkinson’s diagnosis. The doctor who diagnosed Gastineau also is being audited, according to Gastineau’s attorney, Jason Luckasevic. The audit of the doctors’ work is done by the court-appointed claims administrator.
Gastineau and other players believe Goodell and the league are using the audits and appeals to stall payouts.
Gastineau said he saw Goodell inside a suite at MetLife Stadium at a Jets game a few years ago. He said they’ve known each other since the 1980s, when Goodell was a public relations assistant with the Jets. “He hugged me and said, ‘Anything you need,’ ” Gastineau said.
Added his wife, JoAnn, “I really feel the NFL should come here and see Mark Gastineau in his house.”
Marshall, a defensive lineman on two Giants Super Bowl teams, said he also was given a monetary award for his medical claim but has yet to receive the money.
Marshall declined to identify his diagnosis. The settlement covers players who have Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS or dementia or were found to have CTE in their brains after death.
Like Gastineau, Marshall said the NFL is appealing the decision and the doctor is being audited, said Luckasevic, who also represents Marshall.
“This is what a defendant does in a situation where they’ve been ordered to make a payment,” Marshall said. “They appeal and they delay and do whatever they can to avoid paying.”
The NFL makes no apology for the appeals.
“We are ensuring that legitimate claims are processed and paid in a timely way to those individuals and families who deserve these benefits,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said. He added, “No legitimate claim has been rejected.”
The settlement itself is run by a court-appointed claims administrator, Orran Brown of the law firm BrownGreer, who is independent of both the NFL and the players.
Brown declined to comment when reached by Newsday. He said he is “under directions” by the NFL and Seeger to refer all interview requests to them.
Players also complain of administrative issues that have caused long lag times.
Players who were not diagnosed with any of the covered diseases before January 2017 have to be seen by a doctor covered by the settlement in order to submit a claim. Players complain of wait times anywhere from three to six months for an appointment.
Bruce Harper, 62, who played for the Jets from 1977-84, said he still has not seen a doctor for his initial visit.
“The thing that bothers me the most is I think they’re going to put this off as long as they can, until we die,” Harper said. “I have a bad heart, man. Who knows? Any of us, who knows how long we have here. I just hope my family will be taken care of.”
Harper doesn’t know if he will be diagnosed with any of the diseases, but he does know he’s experienced the effects of head trauma from his years playing football.
“You can’t play football for eight years in the NFL without some head trauma. You know what I mean?” he said. “I’ve been knocked out on three different occasions and I know I have my issues.
“Whether they’ve been diagnosed yet or not, but I know I have my issues.”
Former Jets receiver Wesley Walker, who lives on Long Island, also said he hasn’t been able to obtain his first doctor’s visit under the settlement. He has had a litany of physical problems over the years, from his knees to his back to his neck, and most recently has been experiencing memory problems.
Walker said he has left his car running for hours in his driveway without realizing it. He also said he recently left his car running and his door open when he went to pick up a prescription at a drugstore.
“I know a lot of guys who are starting to get disillusioned with the whole thing,” said Walker, 62. “I’m not looking at the settlement as a positive thing, either, because I know with the NFL, you have to fight them on everything.”
Michael Kaplen, a Pleasantville, New York-based attorney for the Brain Injury Association of America, is not surprised by the players’ growing uneasiness about the settlement.
“It’s playing out exactly as I predicted,” Kaplen said.
In October 2016, Kaplen wrote a brief to the Supreme Court asking the country’s ultimate judiciary to take a look at a settlement that, according to Kaplen, “neither recognizes nor compensates the majority of players suffering the long-term consequences of brain trauma.”
The Supreme Court declined to get involved, and the settlement essentially became official at that point.
Kaplen said more players will become disenchanted with the settlement when they realize they’re not going to receive any financial benefits because they technically don’t have ALS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or dementia. That, however, doesn’t mean they don’t have long-term cognitive issues.
“The court should bring everybody back to the drawing board and say this is not working,” he said.
The website for the concussion settlement — www.nflconcussionsettlement. com — reports that as of March 26, 350 claims have resulted in monetary awards of $380 million for former players or their families in the 12 months since claims were first allowed to be filed.
But Luckasevic, who represents about 500 former players, points to another document deeper on the website that shows that of that amount, only $150 million has been paid out to 183 of those claims.
Of those 183 claims, 49 went to the families of players who died and were found to have CTE.
Still, Seeger noted that the $380 million that’s been approved thus far in monetary awards already surpasses the NFL’s estimate to the federal judge overseeing the case that it likely would have to pay $298 million in the first five years of the settlement.
Seeger also said the long lag times for claims to be processed were the result of a large influx of claims submitted. NFL spokesman McCarthy added, “The process of review and payment is becoming more streamlined and claims will be processed even more efficiently going forward.”
Seeger also doesn’t apologize for the audits of physicians. He noted how 153 claims were rejected because an investigation by the claims administrator found that the physician claimed to have completed 134 1⁄2 hours of exams during a 48-hour period. The players who submitted those claims are allowed to file new ones — with a new doctor.
But former players and attorneys who fought for years with the NFL have a hard time taking anything at face value from the league — and even, by extension, the attorney who is charged with representing the interests of the 20,000 former players.
“There’s absolutely no limit on the NFL’s appeals unless class counsel believes they’re being frivolous,” Luckasevic said. “And that would be the first time the class counsel has stood up to the NFL.”
Added Walker: “I don’t care about the money. I just want to get myself checked out and we can deal with it. Hopefully, all of us players get the help they need.
“But I don’t see it happening.”