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NFL drops appeal over dementia claims in concussion case

By MaryClaire Dale

Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The NFL abruptly dropped its plan Wednesday to challenge approved dementia diagnoses in a landmark concussion case as players’ lawyers accuse it of trying to delay payments and rewrite the $1 billion settlement.

A federal court hearing set for Thursday on the NFL’s appeal was canceled Wednesday afternoon as the league dropped its appeal. Instead, U.S. District Judge Anita Brody issued an order requiring doctors to explain their findings in certain cases.

The NFL had asked to challenge some diagnoses made by settlement-approved doctors and upheld by a court-appointed administrator whose decisions are supposed to be final. The league nonetheless filed an appeal on the grounds that the standards used to diagnose the ex-players with dementia were not being applied consistently.

The NFL argued that it had agreed to remove a $765 million cap on payouts only in exchange for “a clear demarcation of the boundary between compensable and non-compensable levels of impairment.”

Some players’ lawyers said the NFL is having buyer’s remorse as the early payouts surge past early projections in the 65-year settlement.

Plan administrators have approved more than $600 million in claims, and paid out $425 million, in the first two years alone. In contrast, the NFL had thought it would take a decade to pay out the first $400 million, according to a lead players lawyer who called the league’s appeal “meritless.”

“Our advocacy on behalf of former players will continue to ensure they receive every benefit under this agreement, and that the NFL pays every dollar for which they are obligated,” the lawyer, Christopher Seeger, said in a statement Wednesday.

Several players’ lawyers interviewed this month said their clients, already unwell, were becoming frustrated and even hopeless as the NFL alleged fraud or otherwise fought their claims as they moved through the administrative process.

“It’s very disturbing to see what’s going on,” said lawyer Wendy R. Fleishman, who represents 350 retired players, including several whose final awards were put on hold amid the NFL appeals. “To the NFL, the delay is not a big deal, but it is a big deal to some of these guys.

“It seems the only purpose is to delay, to stop the claimants from getting their legitimate claims paid,” she said.

Retired players can seek awards of as much as $3 million for moderate dementia and $1.5 million for mild dementia, although most men would get far less. The settlement resolves thousands of lawsuits that alleged the NFL hid what it knew about the risk of concussions in order to return players to the field.

The settlement offers retired players baseline testing and compensation for four types of illnesses — Alzheimer’s disease; Parkinson’s disease; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease; and dementia.

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SAINTS: PAYTON USED LOMBARDI TROPHY, CASH, AS MOTIVATION

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — The Lombardi Trophy, stacks of cash totaling more than $200,000 and a Super Bowl ring — flanked by armed guards — were among the sights Saints players saw when they showed up at team headquarters this week to prepare for their playoff opener.

Several players said after practice Wednesday that coach Sean Payton put the iconic silver trophy and the approximate amount of bonus money paid to Super Bowl-winning players on display to remind them of what could be theirs if they win three more games, starting with Sunday’s divisional-round clash with the defending champion Eagles in the Superdome.

“Of course, everybody’s playing to be champions. But that trophy, that bread, all that’s on the line. It’s just another little way to get us going,” running back Mark Ingram said, adding that if the Saints win, “I want my presentation to look just like that.

“The glass box of cash, my ring, all that,” Ingram continued. “I don’t want no direct deposits coming from the playoffs. I want all my cash coming to the crib looking just like they had it the other day. That was nice.”

The Saints have won one Super Bowl in their 52-year history. The season was 2009. Payton was the coach; Drew Brees was the quarterback. The only other players from that squad still in the Saints locker room are punter Thomas Morstead and offensive lineman Jermon Bushrod, who was a starting left tackle back then and serves as a reserve now.

Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins described a raucous response from players when they saw the display.

“If you saw all that money in front of you, you’d get excited too. Anybody would get excited about that, and I’m right along with them,” Rankins said. “Sean does a great job of getting us ready. He kind of knows what buttons to push and how to pique guys’ interest and get guys even more excited than they already are to go and play a playoff game.”

“Just Sean trying to give everybody a vision, especially the young guys, as to what we’re after and the opportunity we have,” Brees said. “Especially as the No. 1 seed, it all comes through this place.”

At the same time, several players stressed that the Saints weren’t getting ahead of themselves or looking past the Eagles, whom they routed, 48-7, earlier this season.

“I understand it, you know, kind of visual, but none of that matters this game,” left tackle Terron Armstead said. “That’s all we’re thinking about — this game. Win or go home. That’s it.”

Payton has used visual props to get messages across to players since being hired as New Orleans’ coach in 2006.

After the team started 0-4 in 2007, Payton parked a wagon full of instruments — meant to resemble an empty bandwagon — alongside the practice field. He has also been known to place rat traps around team headquarters before “trap games” against heavy underdogs, or gas cans in the lockers of veterans as a way of challenging them to show, metaphorically speaking, that they still have gas in the tank.

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