Imagine this: your loved one experiences a rapid mental and physical decline, raking up doctors bills and draining family funds, and suffers an untimely death, which allows doctors to make a groundbreaking discovery, but you are forced to deliver pizzas to make ends meet. This is the story of Garrett Webster, the son of former Steelers’ center Mike Webster. Mike Webster passed away in 2002 at the age of fifty after playing seventeen years in the National Football League (NFL).
After his death, Webster became the first player to be diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.). While Webster’s diagnosis has led to settlements between the NFL and many former players and their families, provisions and cut-off dates built into the settlement agreement have barred the Webster family from receiving compensation.
The official settlement agreement bars any family members of former players who died before January 1, 2006, from filing lawsuits against the league. During the agreement, the NFL pushed strongly for a cutoff date to prevent claims from families of long dead ex-players. Christopher Seeger, a co-lead counsel for the former players, noted that while many players were opposed to a cutoff date, ultimately they needed a settlement to pass in order to aid players with their medical bills and ensure security for the families of deceased players.
The cutoff date does not apply to players who suffered from diseases covered in the settlement such as Parkinson’s and ALS. For families like the Websters, this is devastating as their husband/father’s diagnosis came posthumously, but his deterioration was taxing both financially and emotionally. Although the settlement itself limits claims from the families of players who died before 2006, the judge presiding over the case left a legal loophole through which these families can have their voices heard. Families can file suits against the league so long as they can prove they have a right to a legal case under their state’s statute of limitations.
While, at the end of the day, the NFL is a for-profit business seeking to protect its own assets, there should be some moral obligation to players like Mike Webster who contributed so much to the success of franchises and the league as a whole.
Additionally, the league vehemently denied connections between football and head injury, especially the role head injuries or concussions played in the development of neurological disorders. As much as the NFL wants to look after itself, the wrongdoing is clear and has had dramatic impacts on the lives of former players and their families. The NFL, as an employer, should consider adding loopholes or creating a new settlement to aid families of players who were posthumously diagnosed with basic things such as covering or reimbursing the families for head injury related medical bills or a small amount of money just to allow them to remain afloat. Perhaps the franchises themselves should take some responsibility and offer to aid widows and children of players who dedicated so many years of their lives to a particular organization.
All parties involved in the covering up and denial of the connection between football and degenerative neurological disorders should meet with and listen to the families of former players in order to understand the suffering they have undergone and to realize that most people are not looking to make a fortune from this settlement but are rather searching for stability and security amidst a great time of personal and financial uncertainty.