NFL commissioner Roger Goodell

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Bernstein: Scary News In NFL Settlement Payouts

There are new developments in the effects of head injuries in movement disorders.

Dan Bernstein
August 08, 2018 - 3:44 pm

(670 The Score) It was already alarming to learn of how stingy and insensitive the NFL has become in awarding money to former players affected profoundly by brain damage. Though the league had finally agreed that football was responsible enough for their cognitive disability and pledged a billion dollars to cover liabilities for care, the system of claim application and verification resulted in labyrinthine difficulty that left many still sick and now broke.

HBO Real Sports detailed several of the specific cases in a May report entitled "Unsettled," which explained that 90 percent of those who filed had yet to receive any money at that point, with the league claiming that widespread fraud necessitated a deliberate disbursement process. It was stunning, however, to see the players affected at various stages of dementia and learn that they and their families were being denied assistance often on the thinnest of technicalities or diagnostic uncertainties.

The league has since updated its official settlement website to indicate that more than $500 million in claims have been distributed and told reporters that the process would be streamlined for better access to one's fair share of the money set aside. But as we learn more about the payments, some details are emerging that show unexpected patterns of what ailments are causing former players to suffer.

This discussion has always been about chronic traumatic encephalopathy -- or more really reduced to the misleading concepts of concussions instead of being more up front about the truth that accruing sub-concussive hits over time was the real culprit in how the game causes a higher likelihood of developing the disease. Plenty have been awarded compensation for classic cases of this pathology, despite definitive clinical diagnosis still being only possible postmortem. The total amount far outstrips actuarial estimates, reaching its current number 10 years ahead of what was anticipated. That's scary enough, but so is what we're finding out about problems well beyond just what we now see as garden-variety football CTE.

A full $146.5 million of the money has been for Parkinson's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis -- 81 and 30 respective claims of each that have been paid or approved, in just 18 months since the agreement took effect, according to story in the Los Angeles Times that was published Wednesday. Relative to estimates, it's already three times as much as the full amount that was expected to be paid for those ailments over 65 years.

That massive miscalculation by the NFL is resulting in new questions about the role of head injury in movement disorders and not just cognitive ones, with no larger medical consensus on causality. The LA Times report detailed studies and professional assessments that reveal a probable connection between repeated head trauma and both Parkinson's and ALS, as well as Lewy body disease and various combinations of underlying issues that can cause symptoms that mimic other ailments. It's becoming a much more complex and expensive problem than the NFL anticipated, clearly, and should be changing what we talk about when we demand that players receive full disclosure of the risks of playing at any level.

We've been concentrating primarily on rogue proteins in the brain, both in media coverage and the actual clinical study of the dangers endemic to tackle football. But following the money means it's well past time to start caring just as much about these degenerative disorders that affect spine and the nerves that send signals to muscles.

This isn't what the NFL says it is on it's official site that provides forms, links and information for those needing to apply.

We're realizing this is something far more complicated than just a "concussion settlement."

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in middays. You can follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.​