After N.F.L. Concussion Settlement, Feeding Frenzy of Lawyers and Lenders

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“I’ve been doing this litigation for a long time, there’s always been a certain amount of stuff going on, but I’ve never seen anything like this by a multiple,” said Christopher Seeger, the co-lead counsel for the players, who has received dozens of complaints from players and others about companies pitching sometimes dubious services. “There’s a sex appeal to representing N.F.L. players, and they are so identifiable, so these companies who are predatory, it is easy for them to be successful. Most of these guys are broke, so they’re vulnerable.”

While some of the firms may provide valuable assistance in complicated cases, others appear to be pitching services to ex-players who don’t need their help.

The cottage industry of companies and law firms, going by names such as N.F.L. Case Consulting, Concussion Case Management and Legacy Pro Sports and looking to help people file settlement claims, is largely unregulated, even if their pitches are for services that are usually unnecessary. And with the deadline to register for the settlement less than a month away, their pitches have become more aggressive.

The rush to recruit players prompted the federal judge overseeing the legal settlement case to issue a cease-and-desist order in April against Fred Willis, a former running back, whose company, N.F.L. Players Brains Matter, the judge said, distributed “improper communications” to other players. Willis did not respond to a request for comment.

The judge, Anita B. Brody, also approved a notice that warned players about companies that, according to Seeger, offer to help players “navigate what are falsely portrayed as complicated registration, medical testing and claims procedures.”

Photo

Carter during his days with the Tampa Bay Bandits of the U.S.F.L. He says he is offended by retired players doing the bidding of lawyers.

Credit
Eve Edelheit for The New York Times

Most of the claim-service providers require players to agree to share 15 percent or more of anything they receive in return for helping them with a process they portray, in stark terms, as unduly complicated. They also do not always tell players that they can call court-appointed experts to receive free advice on how to file a claim, or that they can visit doctors who will provide a neurological exam free.

Some lawyers have hosted dinners for former players at steakhouses to get them to sign up. Others have promised to get players appointments with doctors who will write diagnoses that make their medical conditions look worse than they are, according to players who have received pitches from some of the companies.

Some lawyers have also hired former players to sign up their brethren, yet do not always disclose that the ex-players are being paid to recruit other retirees. One firm hired Joe Pisarcik, the former New York Giants quarterback who until recently ran the N.F.L. Alumni Association, as a pitchman. (Pisarcik did not answer telephone messages left for him.)

Seeger said a few hundred of the approximately 20,000 players who are eligible appeared to have signed up for these services. But some retirees have resisted the come-ons. Walter Carter, who played defensive end for the Raiders and the Buccaneers, as well as in the U.S.F.L., has heard from at least a dozen companies pitching services.

But Carter, 59, who runs a packaging company near Tampa, Fla., went on the website for the concussion settlement and realized he could file a claim on his own. Although he was annoyed by the lawyers selling services he does not need, Carter is more offended by the retired players who are doing their bidding, including Pisarcik, who pitched him.

“I watch how these attorneys work and I think it’s a crime,” Carter said. But “most of them penetrate the confidence of guys by working with other guys. It’s the ultimate betrayal.”

Even players who may have taken fewer hits to the head than front-line players have been approached. Michael Husted, a place-kicker with four teams over nine N.F.L. seasons, said he had received emails and phone calls from at least half a dozen companies offering to help him file a claim. Most of these companies made it clear they were less concerned about his health than about earning a commission, he said.

“I was definitely surprised they were reaching out to a kicker, but then I realized the more people they get, the more money they might get,” Husted said.

He said the process to register online for the settlement — a needed step before filing a claim — was straightforward and did not require a lawyer.

“If you can read, you can fill it out,” he said.

Brody, the federal judge concerned about the pitches, left open the possibility of canceling agreements between these companies and any players they have enlisted.



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