Garrett Webster used the word “validation” several times when talking about the landmark settlement the NFL agreed to Thursday with thousands of plaintiffs in a concussion-related lawsuit.
It was fitting since the son of the late, great Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster feels that way on several levels.
Garrett Webster, who believes his father's estate will be included in the deal, said he is happy for families whose suffering will be eased by the $765 million settlement. And the statement made in what Webster viewed as an admission of some culpability by the NFL could also be a seminal moment in the awareness and treatment of brain injuries, he said.
“I hope this settlement is the NFL saying, 'We're taking concussions seriously. We're going to keep working on it,'” Webster said. “The worst-case scenario for me is the NFL saying, 'We paid you money. Now go away.'”
Mike Webster, a Hall of Famer and stalwart on the Steelers' Super Bowl-winning teams in the 1970s, died in September 2002 after years of suffering from dementia, depression and other neurological disorders associated with repeated head trauma.
He was at the forefront of NFL players diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) after his death, and CTE had been linked to Alzheimer's disease and depression.
Garrett Webster, 29, has made the study of brain injuries part of his life's work. He is the administrator of the Brain Injury Research Institute in Chicago and spends his time there while also living in Pittsburgh.
The NFL has not worked with the Brain Injury Research Institute in the past, Webster said, and he hopes the lawsuit signals a change in its approach. He said retired players have to put aside any rancor they feel toward the NFL and work with the league in promoting awareness and the study of brain injuries.
“Everybody needs to, on some level, work together,” Webster said. “NFL players are getting bigger, stronger and faster. It's a long-term issue and it's not just football players.”
The lawsuit offered some personal validation for Webster, who often had to care for his father while he was growing up. He said the motives of his family and supporters were often questioned after the Webster estate successfully sued the NFL in 2005 because of disabilities Mike Webster sustained from playing football.
“It felt like for the longest time we were making stuff up, that we were after money,” Garrett Webster said. “I would give $200 million for my dad to be back here and be alive. There's no price on the hell you go through with this.”