By Daniel Kelley
(Reuters) - Lawyers for more than 20,000 former professional football players are expected in court on Wednesday in Philadelphia to argue over the terms of a settlement between the NFL and the players over concussions incurred while playing the game.
The multimillion-dollar settlement, which has drawn objections from some former National Football League players, provides for payments of up to $5 million to those with the most serious neurological impairments.
But it has drawn criticism, in part, over how it treats players with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, one of the most common neurological disorders suffered by football players.
"The issue here is basically the industrial disease of football," said Steven Molo, who is representing a group of players who want U.S. District Judge Anita Brody to reject the deal. About 200 former players oppose the deal.
Molo argues that the settlement arbitrarily cuts off payments to those who are diagnosed with CTE, which is caused by repeated blows to the head and can lead to aggression and dementia.
Under the deal, the NFL will pay $4 million to the families of men who died from CTE before July 7, 2014, while those diagnosed afterward receive nothing. CTE, however, can only be diagnosed by examining the brain after someone has died, though some experts see a diagnostic test for the living coming within five years.
Chris Seeger, the lead plaintiff's attorney, said players with CTE would be compensated for dementia and neurocognitive impairments under other parts of the settlement.
"With over 99 percent participation, it is clear the retired player community resoundingly supports this settlement," he said. "If the settlement receives final approval, former NFL players will be able to take advantage of its benefits within months, unless appeals are filed that will indefinitely delay the start of these programs."
There are other objections, too. Because players who develop dementia at a younger age generally qualify for larger payments, some players object to reductions in payments based on the age at which they are diagnosed.
The judge granted preliminary approval to the deal in June after the NFL agreed to remove a $675 million cap on payments.
NFL Hall of Famer Joe DeLamielleure has opted out of the settlement to pursue his own lawsuit against the league.
"Very few people will get any type of financial relief from this," he said. "The NFL is always two steps ahead of the posse. "They win again."
(Additional reporting by Steve Ginsburg)