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Judge approves concussion settlement that could cost NFL $1 billion

Newsday explores why so many former NFL players struggle while transitioning to life after football in this special report. Hear from former players including Wesley Walker, Boomer Esiason, Bruce Harper and more.

Nearly two years after giving preliminary approval to a settlement affecting former NFL players suffering from concussion-related problems, a federal judge gave her final approval Wednesday and cleared a major obstacle to allow thousands of ex-players to receive benefits.

Judge Anita S. Brody's 132-page settlement document, a copy of which was obtained by Newsday, details potential awards for former players dealing with problems related to head trauma, ranging from a maximum of $5 million for those afflicted with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) -- Lou Gehrig's Disease -- to a maximum of $1.5 million for ex-players suffering from other neurocognitive impairment.

The players could begin receiving the benefits this summer, but further appeals of the settlement would delay the distribution of any financial awards. Approximately 200 of the more than 5,000 former players who participated in the lawsuit already had filed appeals. The settlement covers all former players, not only those who participated in the lawsuit.

"Assuming no appeals are filed, the benefits process will open as soon as this summer,'' Christopher Seeger and Sol Weiss, co-lead counsels for the retired player plaintiffs, said in a statement. "If any objector appeals the final approval order, however, no benefits will become available until this process is exhausted -- which will take months, if not years, to resolve.''

The lawyers hailed Brody's final approval as the culmination of years' worth of legal challenges against the NFL. As part of the settlement, the league is not required to declare any admission of liability regarding concussions suffered by former players.

"Nearly four years ago, retired NFL players embarked on a mission that many thought to be impossible: to obtain security and care for the devastating neurocognitive injuries they were experiencing,'' Seeger and Weiss said.

"Today, these courageous men and their families have made history. Despite the difficult health situations retired players face today, and that many more will unfortunately face in the future, they can take comfort that this settlement's benefits will be available soon, and will last for decades to come.''

Former Eagles and Patriots fullback Kevin Turner, the plaintiffs' class representative who has been diagnosed with ALS, hailed the approval.

"Words cannot express the sense of satisfaction and relief I feel now that this settlement has been approved by the court,'' Turner said. "While nothing can change the reality faced by those who suffer from ALS or other devastating neurocognitive illnesses, this settlement will provide the benefits we need to take care of our families and have the best quality of life we are able to have.''

Brody initially balked at a $765-million settlement that was reached in August 2013, citing concerns that the money would be insufficient to cover all claims. The final agreement announced Wednesday has no financial cap.

The settlement includes a $75-million baseline assessment program for all retired players. It also has an education fund to help players learn about existing medical disability programs and "promote safety and injury prevention for football players of all ages, including youth football players.''

NFL executive vice president and general counsel Jeff Pash said Brody's approval "powerfully underscores the fairness and propriety of this historic settlement. As a result of the settlement, retirees and their families will be eligible for prompt and substantial benefits and will avoid years of costly litigation that -- as Judge Brody's comprehensive opinion makes clear -- would have an uncertain prospect of success.

"We look forward to implementing the terms of the settlement and continuing to work with our players, coaches and medical staffs to enhance the safety and benefits of football."

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