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NFL does the right thing

So this happened yesterday, and the only thing not inevitable about it was the time and date. The NFL was going to settle with its 18,000 retirees (including the 4,500 who signed onto a class-action suit) about the issue of concussion-related injuries, because the blood was on its hands and the egg was on its face.

You don't settle for three quarters of a billion dollars unless the other guy has you in the crosshairs. Home truth.

That the NFL ignored study after study, even its own, suggesting that there was a direct link between football-induced concussions and serious long-term brain injury seems obvious now, and not just because of its 2004 public statement that, after 10 years of study, the league could find no evidence that concussions were a long-term problem. And so you can ignore the standard, and always hilarious, legalese -- i.e., by settling, the league makes no admission of culpability or that the players' injuries were in any way caused by football, blah-blah-blah.

So, great. The NFL can claim Junior Seau's brain trauma and Dave Duerson's and a laundry list of others' happened because they walked into too many doors, and it doesn't matter. What matters is these men -- the men who built the NFL empire -- will get at least some of the help they need.

It's the right and decent and necessary thing to do for the NFL, and, please, don't start with the "These guys knew the risks" argument. Yes, football is a violent game and injuries and concussions happen. Those are reasonable factors every player weighs when he decides to play the game.

What's not reasonable is to assume every player also knew that, with enough concussions, they'd likely be unable to remember their names by the time they were 50, or would put a gun in their mouths and blow their rotted brains all over the room. No sane person would play the game if he knew that, and we'd all be spending our Sunday afternoons in the fall watching Downton Abbey or the National Croquet League.

And yet, here the NFL is, robust as ever, with a full and eager workforce. And so you can reasonably conclude that its players didn't know the long-term damage on their brains of multiple concussions -- and the reason they didn't is because the NFL itself kept telling them it wasn't so.

So, yes, there is personal responsibility here, but there is also corporate responsibility. And the fact is, on this issue, the NFL didn't take any responsibility -- or any action to protect its most valuable commodity -- until the players' lawsuit forced it to.

And so thank God for lawsuits. At least in this case.

Ben Smith's blog.

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