“It’s a dirty game they seem to be playing,” Gash said. “It’s a lot of low-ball dirty little tactics and I’m like, ‘Is this what the NFL stands for?’”
Other players also reached out to the FOX 8 I-Team, saying they are frustrated.
“I mean, if I didn’t play, if I didn’t get the hits, the knocks that I gotten, maybe I wouldn’t be in this position of not being able hold my fork or cut my meat,” said retired NFL wide receiver Daniel Buggs.
Jeff Griffin, a retired NFL defensive back, said he has been involved in the process for seven years. His claim was approved in December but he has yet to get paid.
The players speaking out all said they suffer from the impact of brain injuries from pro football careers. They all said they struggle in their daily lives and have been trying for years to get a financial payout from a concussion settlement — a system set up after former players sued the league over long-term problems from head trauma.
“Sometimes I think they try and delay you and hope that you die,” Buggs said.
He told us he suffers from tremors and has difficulty doing simple tasks.
The three players all played back when there was a lot less focus on head injuries. All said they’ve either been denied payments through the concussion settlement or had cases delayed for years. Gash and Griffin both say they’ve been diagnosed with early onset of dementia. Gash said he even sent a message to the NFL commissioner, trying to reach him with a tweet.
“I was like, ‘Commissioner, do you really know what’s going on?’” Gash said. “Do you kinda know what’s going on with these vets? They think everybody’s lying — that’s what it kinda feels like.”
Retired Cleveland doctor Alan Lerner, a neurologist specializing in memory disorders, said he evaluated many NFL players.
“I took care of or assessed about 80 people in the NFL concussion settlement,” Lerner told the I-Team. “It is a low-trust environment. Let’s be real. The players don’t trust the NFL. The NFL doesn’t trust the doctors. The doctors may or may not trust the NFL or the players. I certainly want to be fair to the retired players. My sympathies are not with the lawyers — or the NFL, for that matter, because I think they have set this out to be reasonably difficult.”
The NFL class-action concussion settlement was finalized back in 2017. The league agreed to pay as much as $5 million to former players diagnosed with early-level brain diseases connected with football. According to the NFL concussion settlement website, as of Aug. 14, the league has approved 1,644 claims and awarded more than $1 billion. But 57% of the claims filed have not been processed and all of the money awarded has not been paid.
The players we talked to, along with one attorney, want an outside investigation.
“I think that Congress needs to do a follow-up congressional hearing or the Department of Justice needs to do an investigation,” said attorney Byron Cuthbert.
Cuthbert previously represented Sam Gash. He and his firm represented close to 200 former NFL players, including several former Cleveland Browns.
On June 28, the special masters overseeing the settlement censured Cuthbert. According to the special masters’ report, the claims administrator audited Cuthbert and interviewed 19 people.
The audit report found Cuthbert “displayed a pattern of questionable behavior,” including using PET scans he knew were unreliable, pressuring doctors to change and backdate diagnoses, drafting a medical record under a doctor’s name and preparing third-party affidavits with specific language not unique to players.
We asked Cuthbert about the allegations. He denied any wrongdoing and has filed a formal appeal. He stressed he did not knowingly present unreliable amyloid PET scans and presented medical records based off board certified radiologists’ medical opinions in support of the claims.
“They’ve also alleged I’m coaching my players. They never interviewed any of my players to affirm that,” Cuthbert said. “They have alleged that I am coaching doctors, which, several of the doctors disputed those allegations. They didn’t take into consideration that evidence. They didn’t allow for us to have a hearing that gives a fundamental right to address those allegations; to ask questions to my accusers. They didn’t give us that opportunity.”
Cuthbert said he believes the NFL is defaming him. We asked why he thinks the NFL would do that.
“I have a record of winning,” Cuthbert said. “I did a miniature study with the PET scan. I did about 100 evaluations and about 35 to 40 percent of those evaluations — I mean those scans — came back positive. If you look at my audit, that is an aggregate amount of $30 million worth of claims. The NFL just simply doesn’t want to pay these players’ benefits.”
The I-Team reached out several times to the NFL and to representatives of the players union, asking for an interview to discuss the matter. On Tuesday, a spokesman with the NFL responded, saying, “We are not going to have someone available for this.” The spokesman also directed us to go to the NFL concussion settlement website.
Lerner said he dealt with Cuthbert and did not feel pressured by the attorney.
“We’ve had some honest discussion,” Lerner said. “I never felt pushed in an individual case to make a decision I didn’t think was in the player’s best interest.”
Cuthbert and some players believe concussion settlement claims are being delayed for a wide variety of reasons, including race as well as rules and guidelines that keep changing.
The players also said they feel the NFL is accusing them of making their symptoms seem worse.
“I have a person telling me they think I can answer a question better than I did,” Buggs said. “Come on. They think I would make this up? It’s frightening to say the least. And then for them to try and say, ‘You are faking it.’ It is crazy. It is bizarre.”
The players said they are not giving up. We asked how long they plan to keep fighting.
“I guess until you die,” Gash said.