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The NFL Concussion Settlement Is Getting Personal, And Weird, And Now Roger Stone Is Involved

Photo: Mark Wilson (Getty)

Since its inception, the NFL concussion settlement has featured a turf battle between two groups ostensibly on the same side of the litigation: the co-lead counsel representing the settlement class of players, and plaintiffs’ attorneys representing individual players. That battle took a personal turn this week, when co-lead class counsel Christopher Seeger filed court papers accusing one plaintiffs’ attorney of being an “active collaborator” in “spreading conspiracy theories and falsehoods about the Settlement” by serving as a source for indicted Donald Trump fixer and all-around shitbag Roger Stone.

Seeger’s motion caught the attention of BuzzFeed, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, all of which framed their reports around Stone’s bizarre connection to Patrick Tighe, a plaintiffs’ lawyer who has been an outspoken critic (including to me) of the settlement’s failure to pay a number of dementia claimants. It’s all pretty juicy, but what the sudden taint of Stone’s sleaze reveals is the depths of the internecine scuffle between Seeger and the plaintiffs’ attorneys, which has been going on for quite some time.

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In media appearances and court filings over the last two years, Tighe has made numerous critiques of the settlement. Many of his arguments have been echoed by Stone, both in columns on multiple right-wing websites and on the crazytown talk show InfoWars. On Monday, Stone’s Instagram account took a break from farting out unhinged attacks on CNN and Robert Mueller to say this:

When will Roger Goodell and the NFL keep their commitment to pay their veteran players suffering from traumatic brain injury? (Tbi) 88% of injured players are African American. Stop the racism and pay up! #nfl #superbowl53

Those words were accompanied by the image of an old football card showing Cornell Webster, an ex-Seahawks cornerback who retired in 1980:

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Later Monday, Tighe tweeted a link to Stone’s IG post about Webster. This is probably where I should mention that Webster happens to be one of Tighe’s clients.

Both Stone and Tighe denied to the Wall Street Journal that Tighe had paid Stone to carry his water. “I have nothing to do with Roger Stone,” Tighe told USA Today. “I have not hired Roger Stone and he’s not an agent of mine.” Stone denied even knowing Tighe to BuzzFeed, while Tighe told BuzzFeed he didn’t pay Stone to talk about the concussion settlement, and that he has no relationship with him. But! More from BuzzFeed:

Asked if he had ever spoken with Stone, Tighe said he didn’t think so, but it was possible, since they both live in south Florida and go to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club. But Tighe said that even if he had spoken with Stone, it was not about the NFL case.

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In a Jan. 17 column in the Daily Caller, Stone detailed specifics about Webster’s medical condition, including the following anecdote from last summer:

Cornell wandered off from his home, and a silver alert had to be issued to locate him. He was found but unfortunately had fallen, suffered a head injury and was hospitalized. Cornell has been in a hospital since Sept. 5. He is restrained at all times because he wanders off and allegedly yells out like he is still playing football.

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BuzzFeed also reported that Stone said on InfoWars last month that Webster has had to deliver pizzas to get by. But when BuzzFeed got Webster on the phone yesterday, he denied this. Webster’s wife also told BuzzFeed she had no idea Stone had been publicly discussing Webster. As Webster told BuzzFeed, “I don’t know Roger Stone. That’s the first time I’ve heard anything about that.” There was no mention of Stone’s claim that Webster had to be “restrained at all times.”

Per the Journal, Tighe even appeared on InfoWars early last year and “echoed [Stone’s] belief that the NFL has used the controversy over the national anthem protests to steer attention away from” the settlement.

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As screwy and as shady as all of this is, it’s a sideshow. Seeger’s court filing describes Tighe’s efforts as a distraction from the fact that a number of Tighe’s claims are in audit. But what’s going on here is actually a distraction from an even bigger issue. Yes, the concussion settlement has approved 774 claims totaling more than $617 million, and $425 million of that has been paid, according to the latest report from the claims administrator, BrownGreer of Richmond, Va. But early and moderate dementia claims, which make up 64 percent of those submitted, are by and large not getting approved. Just 306 of the 1,479 dementia claims (20.7 percent) have been approved, and only 168 have been paid out (11.4 percent). Some 313 dementia claims—more than the approved total—have been issued a final denial. Early and moderate dementia can be difficult to diagnose because patients can frequently appear to be clear-headed. But this fact has created an opening for the NFL to nickel-and-dime claimants of all sorts.

All told, 1,159 of the 2,312 total claims for all diagnoses (death with CTE, ALS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, early and moderate dementia) have been in audit. That’s 55 percent. Some 382 claims are still in audit, and 190 have been denied after audit. The settlement was sold to players and their families as a simple process, but navigating that process has largely proven to be a complex and nightmarish experience. Some plaintiffs’ lawyers had seen all this coming nearly five years ago.

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Tighe and a number of other lawyers are at odds with Seeger over this and host of other issues, including lawyers’ fees, and the situation reached an inflection point early last month. That’s when the NFL withdrew an appeal regarding some complex diagnostic criteria at the heart of the settlement. That withdrawal was coupled with an order from the federal judge presiding over the case that called for BrownGreer to clarify the rules for some doctors.

Tighe had told me (and later asserted this in a court filing) that this clarification amounted to a win beyond even what the NFL was asking for with its appeal, since it would effectively change the diagnostic criteria and thus make it easier for claims to get denied. Stone ran with this in a column a week later for the Gateway Pundit. But in a subsequent interview (and in this latest filing), Seeger assured me the change was merely administrative, in that it simply directs one set of doctors whose diagnoses might deviate from a stricter standard used by a different set of doctors to put their reasoning (which can include clinical judgment) in writing. He also described it as a win for the players because the NFL withdrew its appeal, thus affirming that the seven claims at stake with that appeal would get paid—and that the actual diagnostic standard would remain unchanged.

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The two attorneys, both supposedly representing the players here, are laundering their disagreements through the media. The truth is likely going to wind up somewhere in between. The settlement has compensated plenty of claimants, but it’s been an absolute mess for many, many more claimants, and the NFL clearly has an interest in reducing its exposure. No one should need Roger Stone to explain that to them.

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About the author

Dom Cosentino

Dom Cosentino is a staff writer at Deadspin.