A federal judge on Wednesday urged NFL retirees to register for a concussion settlement that could cost the league $1 billion over 65 years.
About 22,000 retirees are encouraged to get baseline neurological testing. The league expects more than 6,000 of them to eventually be diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
The deal approved by Senior U.S. District Judge Anita Brody resolves thousands of lawsuits that accused the NFL of hiding what it knew about the risks of repeated concussions in order to return players to the field.
At a hearing Wednesday in Philadelphia, lawyers reminded participants they must register for the settlement by Aug. 7, which could make then eligible for treatment and damage awards.
The awards could reach several million dollars for younger men with the most severe neurological damage, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. The average award is expected to be about $190,000 for those suffering from Alzheimer's disease or moderate dementia.
The awards do not cover depression, mood disorders or future cases of chronic encephalopathy, or CTE, which some consider the signature disease of football. However, the U.S. Supreme Court in December declined to hear appeals filed over those exclusions, prompting the rollout of the plan. Players' lawyers hope the first checks will be sent out by early summer.
"It's been a long road for many of these NFL players and these families," said Christopher Seeger, a lead player's lawyer. "We're finally at the point that we can roll out benefits ... that are greatly deserved and sorely needed."
The NFL this week is moving the first $65 million in payments into trust funds that cover injury claims, baseline testing and education. The league must then pay $120 million more into the injury fund over the next six months.
NFL lawyer Brad Karp said "the league is proud of this settlement" and hopes ex-players with neurological problems will get paid as quickly as possible.
The 65-year settlement program covers players who retired from the league by Jan. 7, 2014.
The awards cover ALS, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, dementia and deaths involving chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. The awards will vary based on a person's diagnosis, age and time in the NFL. The settlement committee is setting up a network of doctors around the country to conduct testing. Any doctors with any ties to the NFL are ineligible to take part.
Brody has ordered the parties to revisit the settlement as the science on CTE advances. About 160 ex-players have opted out and will pursue individual lawsuits.