PHILADELPHIA — With six- and seven-figure payouts from the NFL concussion settlement starting to circulate, former football players have been approached by several entities trying to get a piece of the court-mandated rewards. They include lenders, lawyers and even fellow players.
In an exploratory hearing Tuesday, the co-lead counsel for the former players laid out the extent of the predatory practices they say they've seen since the settlement went into effect in January.
"I've handled a lot of settlements - multibillion dollar settlements. I've never seen it as bad as I've seen here," Christopher Seeger, co-lead counsel for thousands of ex-players who settled with the NFL over brain-related injuries they felt are related to their playing careers, said following the hearing. "We've all heard about a large percentage of players who are not doing well financially within a couple of years of retirement. That's the case here. And that's my concern. They're preying on these guys."
The settlement between the former players and the NFL was struck last year and called for the league to pay out as much as $1 billion to former players who suffer from neurocognitive disorders related to their playing careers.
Seeger provided the court with updated figures, saying more than $130 million has been granted thus far to players with qualifying disabilities, though he couldn't say how many players that covered. He said more than 1,200 claims have been submitted, and more than 2,200 screening tests are scheduled for this year.
"Right now, we can manage it," he said. "If this were to get bigger and there were to continue to be problems, then resources would have to be allocated to deal with this. I don't want any resources taken away from legitimate claims."
U.S. District Judge Anita Brody called the hearing to learn more about deceptive practices that ex-players might be dealing with. The presentation was done by TerriAnne Benedetto, an attorney with Seeger's firm, and focused on three groups: lenders, claims service providers and lawyers. Benedetto explained that some entities have enlisted ex-players to solicit their fellow retired players, paying them fees or commissions to bring them clients.
"It's troubling in that a retired player would certainly trust one of his brethren not to lead him astray," she told the court.
Benedetto said many players are finding themselves contracted to multiple entities, potentially owing money to each. She said they've identified more than 950 former players who've contracted with a service claims provider, a funder and also a law firm.
"We're concerned after paying all these other entities, these retired players and their families are going to be left with little money from their monetary reward," she told the judge.
Benedetto explained to the court that many of the ex-players are vulnerable and may not fully understand the terms to which they're agreeing.
"In particular, someone who may have neurocognitive impairment might not understand the level of an interest rate that they're paying when they see 2.75, and not appreciate that that's a monthly rate," she said, "and not an annual rate."
The judge repeatedly asked how she could help, and Seeger said he'd like to continue the discovery process and investigating suspect entities. He said they could eventually refer them for criminal investigation and might ask the court to help ensure that money reaches its intended target: the men who played a physical game and are now suffering from physical and mental disabilities because of it.