An 86-page complaint filed last Thursday in a Philadelphia federal court put more than 2,000 football players from different eras on the same team for the first time: The document consolidates into one effort more than 80 lawsuits against the NFL. The filing mostly reiterates the previous suits' claims of negligence and concealment in regard to head injuries, except for a section which alleges that the NFL and NFL Films "mythologized" violent contact and created a concussion culture through some of its videos. But, notes Robert Boland, a sports law professor at NYU's Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management, the contents of the joint complaint may matter less than the act of consolidation. "[Combining suits] makes it much easier to dismiss [the case] and for the NFL to prevail," he says. "A local judge and jury hearing the case of a hometown hero might have wanted to produce precedent." Instead, the players, the NFL and the helmet manufacturers named in the suit find their legal fates and financial futures in the hands of one person, U.S. district court judge Anita B. Brody.
This isn't the first time that a slam of a single gavel will determine the depths of the NFL's coffers. In 1975, Judge Earl Larson squashed the Rozelle Rule, which had allowed the commissioner to award players or draft picks to a team that had lost a player in free agency. And in 1993, Judge David S. Doty issued the Reggie White settlement, birthing modern-day free agency and the salary cap. People feared those decisions would bankrupt the league, but bankruptcy isn't the goal of the current suit, says former NFL running back Kevin Turner, one of the plaintiffs. "I want to see the game prosper. There's just a safer way of doing it."