NFL settles concussion lawsuit with former players

8:51 AM, Aug 30, 2013   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The NFL has reached a $765 million settlement with thousands of former pro football players who sued the league, claiming they were not made aware of the risks of concussions and other brain injuries.

The accord, which still must be approved by the court, would send $675 million to the players and their attorneys.  Another $75 million would go toward testing players and tracking their health, as well as research in concussions and education.

"It'll mean a lot particularly for youth sports and younger athletes," Carl Eller, a Vikings Hall of Fame defensive end who heads the Retired Players Association.

"It'll mean a lot particularly for families, when they're getting their kids involved in sports. I think that's going to make the biggest difference."

Eller's organization has pushed for testing and promoted research showing the long term effects of repetitive head injuries on the football field.

One of Eller's teammates during the Vikings' golden era of the late 1960's and 1970's, Wally Hilgenberg, died in 2008 at the age of 66 after suffering from an ailment that robbed him of his ability to walk and speak.

Hilgenberg, who wore number 58, played 16 seasons in the NFL and appeared in all four of the Vikings' Super Bowl games.

His estate was among the 4,500 plaintiffs in the lawsuit, something that wasn't taken lightly by his surviving widow and children.

In a 2007 episode of Minnesota Bound Hilgenberg said that doctors at the Mayo Clinic had diagnosed him with ALS, once known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.  The physicians also told him he showed signs of Lyme's Disease as well, so he was being treated for that.

After Hilgenberg's death his family sent his brain to researchers at Boston University, and they confirmed he had Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE. It's a disordered commonly associated with repetitive brain trauma, including multiple concussions.

Another former Vikings linebacker, Fred McNeill, was a plaintiff in the lawsuit. McNeill, who became a lawyer after his 12-year career with the Vikings, now lives in Los Angeles. He has suffered from memory loss for years, according to published accounts.

In all 250 of the plaintiffs have logged at least some playing time with the Vikings, including notable players Paul Krause, Chuck Foreman, Jim Marshall, Bill Brown and Bob Lurtsema.

Krause, who is now a Dakota County Commissioner, was unable to return messages left by KARE on Thursday.

The most complete list of plaintiffs was assembled by the Washington Times, and can be found at this link on the Times website.

The court still must decide how to divide the proceeds of the settlement.  One source reported that if the $675 million were divided evenly each player would receive $170,000 minus lawyer fees.

Hilgenberg's daughter Angie told KARE that the family never considered money the main issue, because nothing could bring her father back.  She said the point of the lawsuit was to prompt the NFL to show some accountability for the long term effects of injuries sustained by players.

Eller said during the era that he and Hilgenberg played the word "concussion" rarely came up, and that players had a lot of incentive to shake off injuries.

"This was the player's livelihood. It was his economy," Eller remarked.

"So players needed to play and had to play to continue to earn their incomes."

(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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