It’s been seven years since the NFL settled a class-action lawsuit with players over what has been a constant headache for the league – helmets.  More specifically, the number of head injuries in the NFL that has arisen due to inferior helmet designs, according to players. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) has been an ongoing issue in the NFL league for decades, and players finally drew the line when they took the NFL to court for not doing enough to prevent permanent brain injuries and, in some cases, permanent brain damage.

Despite the fact that the league had insurance coverage that helped cover the lawsuit seven years ago, it is still trying to get paid by a few of the carriers.  In a twist that might upset the apple cart and make it more difficult to find its expected financial windfall, the league is now being ordered to produce documents that could give the insurance carriers the ability to wash their hands, leaving the NFL to cover the CTE lawsuit payouts.

The Proof’s In The Paperwork

According to The Athletic’s Daniel Kaplan, arbitrator Michael Dollinger, who has been tasked by a court judge with helping the NFL resolve its differences with insurance carriers, has ordered the league to produce a number of important CTE documents related to the helmet debacle.

The NFL has already been able to settle with most of the carriers, but ten have been holding out, willing to fight to avoid having to pay the league’s claims.  They assert that NFL executives knew that the helmets were not sufficient enough for protecting against CTE, and that they tried to hide the fact for decades.

Among the documents expected to be presented are indemnity agreements signed with helmet manufacturers.  Dollinger’s order comes as insurance carriers believe these agreements might contain language that will show how aware the league was of issues related to head trauma.  He is also questioning why, when the NFL has presented previous supporting documentation in the ongoing drama, most of the information has pertained to issues prior to 2000 – very little has been presented from 2001 forward.

NFL Has Played Keep-Away With Pertinent CTE Documents

Dollinger wrote in his order to the league, “The relative paucity of documents predating 2000, including documents pertaining to the MTBI Committee — despite the fact that attention was apparently already being paid at that period to safety issues — at least raises some question as to the potential existence at some earlier period of documentation that is no longer available, at least from defendants.  The League proffers, as a possible explanation, the rarity of reliance in that era on computer technology, and that may well be a partial or complete explanation. Nonetheless, that is a matter involving some unavoidable degree of speculation, which leaves open other possible theories, including a failure to retain pertinent documents.”

When the league settled the lawsuit with players seven years ago, it tried to ensure that it was practicing good corporate CYA by forcing those involved to sign a non-disclosure agreement.  It also swept under the rug the issues, as well as hid from public view any testimony and documents that were presented during the negotiations leading up to the settlement.  However, the insurance carriers now want access to that information, as well, as they assert that it will help them build their case and keep them from covering the policies.

The league has the possibility of appealing Dollinger’s decision.  There’s a good chance that it will, but it shouldn’t expect to get off that easily.  Despite attempts to build a better helmet the past couple of years, the NFL has still had a lot of difficulty and has admitted that a redesign introduced prior to last season didn’t go far enough to resolve the ongoing head trauma injuries.  As a result, it has admitted that, even with advanced technology, it hasn’t been able to find an ideal solution to the problem.