From the NFL to football leagues, football is facing a new threat: an evolving insurance market that fundamentally changes the economics of sport, reducing or even canceling programs that face higher costs. and the scarcity of coverage available. The lines survey found.
The NFL has more liability insurance covering head injuries, according to several sources. only one carrier is willing to provide workers' compensation coverage to NFL teams. According to industry experts, at least a dozen carriers were active in the professional football insurance market before the NFL began legal action in 2011.
The insurance choices for the manufacturers of football helmets are also slim; an officer from the helmet company said he knew only one. Pop Warner Little Scholars, who oversees 225,000 young players, was forced to switch insurers after his long-time carrier, a subsidiary of insurance giant AIG, refused to provide blanket coverage for no neurological damage .
"People say that football will never go away, but if we can not get insurance, we will," said Jon Butler, executive director of Pop Warner, to his colleagues after discovering that only one carrier was willing to cover the organization due to head trauma. to a person who was present.
Dr. Julian Bailes, Pop Warner's Medical Director and member of the NFL's Head, Neck and Spine Committee, told Outside the Lines that "insurance coverage is arguably the biggest threat to the sport" .
As youth participation rates continue to decline, the insurance crisis adds another uncertainty to the future of America's # 1 sport. Insurance companies, which earn billions of dollars each year by taking risks, are increasingly reluctant to bet on football and other sports associated with traumatic brain injury. Some insurance executives are comparing the problem with asbestos, a business risk that has cost insurers at least $ 100 billion. Head trauma "is an emerging latent exposure that the insurance industry has not seen for decades," said Joe Cellura, president of the North American division of Allied World, in an article on the blog Risk & Insurance. Cellura declined to comment on this story.
"Basically, the world has left the market," Alex Fairly, CEO of Fairly Group, a risk management firm based in Amarillo, Texas, told Outside the Lines, whose clients include the NFL and Major League Baseball. . "If you're football, hockey or soccer, the insurance industry does not want you."
At the Casualty Actuarial Society convention in Las Vegas in November, William Primps, an insurance lawyer and former Yale rider, told hundreds of actuaries: "Overall, I think that 39, there is a real threat to the viability of contact sports. "
Outside the Lines interviewed insurers and insurance brokers, school administrators, lawyers, consultants, team and league officials, coaches and players, and reviewed thousands of pages of documents of procedure and insurance contracts relating to this story. The details shed light on a mysterious but essential corner of the world of sport, shaken by a crisis that began in the NFL and continues to change unexpectedly. The effects are felt more strongly in football, but insurers are increasingly considering all sports associated with brain injury with caution, according to industry experts.
Like most risky activities, organized sports can not exist without insurance. The extent to which the crisis will eventually be felt is an issue that is debated in trade publications and industry reports, at insurance conferences and among brokers serving the world of sport. Scott Lunsford, senior vice president of K & K Insurance, which has subscribed for amateur sport coverage, acknowledged that several major carriers were no longer covering head injuries, but said there were many options left, although that sometimes come with restrictions limiting the exposure of insurers.
"It's part of our business now, brain damage and concussion, and we've adapted," Lunsford said.
"If you're football, hockey or soccer, the insurance industry does not want you."
Alex Fairly, CEO of Fairly Group
Butler said he thought the carriers "were beginning to control the situation, as they did in other risk management situations." In order to calm the fears of the insurers, the law firm Pop Warner has taken the unusual organization of seminars in which some members of the jury have doubted the link that exists between football and neurodegenerative diseases.
Nevertheless, insurance coverage is already having a significant effect on programs across the country.
Last spring, community colleges in Maricopa County, Arizona, announced that they were eliminating football in four schools, including a three-time national college champion. A task force concluded that teams of 358 players accounted for nearly one-third of all insurance costs for the 200,000 students in the district.
In Bakersfield, California, the North of the River Recreation and Park District ended its sports football program at the end of this season, citing a plummeting participation and rising insurance costs.
Another recreation department in Hawkins County, Tennessee, decided to continue playing football this year, although its long-time insurer refused to cover the sport. The department found a new carrier under a policy that pushed up overall insurance costs by 27% to more than $ 13,000. Department head Tim Wilson, citing declining turnout and rising costs, predicted that youth football will disappear within 10 years. "We have insurance now, but who knows how long?" he said.
In the years leading up to the footballers' crisis, dozens of insurers – including well-known personalities such as Fireman's Fund, The Hartford and Travelers – ensured the NFL had no restrictions for traumatic brain injuries. A large number of these companies are now involved in a six-year lawsuit with the NFL at the New York Supreme Court over who will pay the legal fees and settlements claims in 2013 of a class action that should cost more than a billion dollars. According to industry experts, the amateur sport market was even larger with insurers competing to provide a range of coverage for youth, high schools and colleges.
Insurers are worried that the concern over traumatic brain injuries, as in the case of asbestos, will last for decades as carriers potentially pay billions of dollars in legal and medical costs.
For this story, Outside the Lines hired legal researchers to document the growing universe of concussion litigation – the main reason behind the insurance industry's fears. Since 2005, when the first case of brain disease was reported from a former NFL player, thousands of lawsuits involving concussions have been filed in the United States, including class actions against the NFL, NHL and the US. NCAA. Since the NFL's settlement, court cases involving concussions involving at least 18 sports have been filed in at least 29 states, Outside the Lines research found. They target not only professional sports, but also youth leagues, school districts, sports associations, equipment manufacturers, medical service providers, coaches and sports coaches.
The result is potentially catastrophic for organizations such as recreation departments, youth leagues and school districts, as insurers seek to transfer risk to these entities, who can least afford to suffer a financial blow important. In 2016, Pop Warner, who is registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a non-profit organization, filed a lawsuit against the family of a former player who died after a suicide and who had been diagnosed with CTE. In Washington State, the family of a high school footballer suffering a catastrophic head injury has won a settlement of $ 5 million after asserting that coaches were violating Lystedt's Law, which prescribes protocols for the treatment of head injuries. The law has been replicated in the 50 states.
Richard Adler, a Seattle-based brain injury lawyer who wrote the Lystedt Law, said insurers "should use their power, influence and considerable resources to promote player safety." Blame the threat of litigation a reason to no longer provide sports insurance for young people is myopic and does little to advance the need to prevent preventable brain damage in young athletes. "
Fred Langer, a personal injury lawyer who works with Adler on brain injury cases, said insurers "should go out there and insist that the law be respected, coaching, coaching people to do it. The question I'm asking them is, what's the solution, do you want to eliminate contact sports, because that's what it would be, right? "
In fact, the pressure of litigation has already led to many improvements in player safety at all levels. The NFL has dedicated tens of millions of dollars to concussion research, sponsored a national program called Heads Up to promote player safety, and implemented dozens of rule changes to reduce head injuries. . One of these rules for this season, an effort to reduce targeting, has generated a pre-season scrutiny between players, supporters and coaches, although Commissioner Roger Goodell said: "We are focusing on how to take the lead and of course, we use the helmet as protection and we do not use it as a weapon. "
The NFL declined the invitation to interview Joseph Siclare, executive vice president and chief financial officer, about this article. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy posed written questions outside the lines but did not answer any of them.
Lee Gaby, insurance consultant and former risk manager for hundreds of public school districts, said some insurance companies have begun demanding plans and technologies for concussion management, such as neuropsychological test kits. as "hammers" to encourage behavior that reduces claims.
But Gaby has expressed concern that this is not enough for some companies fearing huge losses.
"I tend to think it will be much more important than we think, I do not know if I would compare it to asbestos, I'm somewhere in the middle," he said. "But I just have the feeling that there is so much more than we do not know.Nobody wants to be the last to know it and to be the one who writes all the risks."
As claims mount, Gaby, who plays high school football in Georgia, said he feared that a growing number of school administrators will decide: "More risk, more of football."
Alex Fairly, CEO of Fairly Group, a risk management firm based in Amarillo, Texas, whose clients include the NFL and Major League Baseball, said: "If you play football, hockey or football, Insurance industry does not want you. "Bill Roach for ESPN
MARCH 14, 2016 Jeff Miller, Senior Vice President of NFL Health and Safety Initiatives, acknowledged the connection between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy in a congressional speech. Miller's statement was shocking: it was the first time that a senior NFL official had publicly connected football and illness that had been uncovered in at least 110 former deceased players.
His statement triggered alarms in the offices of the NFL's insurer, Berkley Entertainment & Sports. In the era of concussions, Berkley became the only carrier willing to cover professional football in the event of head trauma. Miller's confession was a gift offered to the plaintiffs, who could quote him in lawsuits against the NFL. The stakes were enormous: Berkley, along with his clients, was potentially exposed to millions of dollars in future claims.
A few hours later, senior executives asked Berkley Entertainment president Cindy Broschart to ask if the time had come to unleash the NFL. Broschart remained firm. She explained that Berkley was protected by raising franchises to unprecedented levels and, after Miller's comments, would have the opportunity to increase them further.
That's exactly what Broschart did: when the NFL policy expired last year, Berkley doubled the $ 1 million per claim deductible and significantly increased the "total" – the total amount that teams must cover before Berkley spends a cent. The NFL, represented by Fairly, accepted the conditions.
Rightly, one of the foremost experts in risk management in sports, refused to discuss the details of the deal. But he said the NFL's limited options reveal "how difficult it is to buy insurance in professional sports, it is literally in the hands of one person in the world".
In recent years, the concussion crisis has resulted in dozens of rule changes, innovations in protective gear and a relentless public relations campaign to convince parents and athletes that the sport has never been so safe.
But the insurance industry does not buy it. For a growing number of carriers, football is a dam built on top of a seismic fault. A disaster may never occur, but the specter of huge potential losses scares many businesses.
"I do not want to use the word" collapse ", but there is a panic in the market," said Gaby.
Understanding why requires basic information on the insurance industry, worth $ 1.2 trillion. Of course, insurance clients opt for peace of mind: they know that their financial needs will be met if an expensive event occurs. Companies win by betting that they will absorb more premiums and investment income than payments in claims. To quantify this risk, carriers – like casinos and sportsbooks – calculate the probability of loss, exploiting mountains of data on everything from road accidents to mortality rates. Auto and life insurance are the craps tables and roulette wheels of the industry: the data is so big that companies are likely to make money.
What scares the football industry is the limited data available and the great uncertainty. There are approximately 300,000 football-related concussions every year, according to an estimate by the University of Pittsburgh University's Medical Concussion Program. But the prevalence of CTE and the likelihood that current players will develop dementia or other disorders are unknown. The "trigger" – when and how the illness begins – has not been established. The CTE can only be diagnosed after death and the symptoms, which range from depression to delusional behavior, may not surface for decades.
"In thirty years you could be suspended and it's a very difficult situation for an insurance company."
James Lynch, Chief Actuary, Insurance Information Institute
In 2005, when the first case of ECT was reported in a former NFL player, 25 scientific articles including the words "football" and "concussion" were published. Last year, there were 139, according to PubMed, a database of scientific research. Some studies were worrisome: last April, researchers at the Boston Health System (Veterans Administration) and at Boston University said that playing football before age 12 "seems to increase vulnerability to the effects of ETC and". other diseases or conditions of the brain ".
In the language of insurance, traumatic brain injury is a "long-term claim" that can take years to develop, then pay indefinitely in the form of onerous legal fees (to defend lawsuits and reimburse regulations and claims). judgments), as well as medical expenses former disabled players).
"In thirty years, you could be suspended and it's a very difficult situation for an insurance company," said James Lynch, chief actuary of the Insurance Information Institute in New York. "That's why the industry is worried about this problem, you want to be able to limit this risk."
The potential exposure of insurers is incalculable. After listening to a presentation on brain injury and insurance at Casualty Actuarial Society's Annual Convention in Las Vegas, William Morrissey, Vice President and Actuary of CNA Insurance, told the panel, "I'm wondering how big is the size?" 'a sleeping giant.'
Morrissey noted that there are millions of former athletes exposed to repetitive head trauma who could sue many targets, including schools, teams, leagues, coaches, coaches sportsmen and doctors. Insurers may be required to cover these legal fees.
"That's what scares me and I hope it will scare everyone," Morrissey told the panel.
Moderator Barbara Murray, Financial Services Sector Manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers, agreed that insurers could be exposed to a "free nightmare".
The ultimate long-term claim is asbestos. The link between high-strength fiber, widely used in the construction industry, and asbestosis, a lung disease, was discovered in the mid-1960s. After more than 50 years of litigation, the industry continues to pay $ 1.8 billion a year in asbestos claims.
Like asbestos-related diseases, ETC can take years to develop, increasing the likelihood of litigation for decades. The pool of potential applicants amounts to millions – theoretically, all athletes – with a variety of potential legal objectives.
"There are parallels, and they are very real," said Lynch.
But there is a big difference between asbestosis, which still accounts for 12,000 to 15,000 victims each year in the United States, and the CTE, which has far fewer documented cases and a much smaller number of potential victims. A broker called asbestos "tidal waves" and brain injuries of "sporting" ripple origin.
According to a 2016 report by S & P Global, a rating agency, insurers have also learned from asbestos experience and are developing a myriad of strategies to limit costs. Many carriers use "exclusions" – which immunize the company against claims for head trauma – or simply refuse to provide coverage.
Football and other sports learn this the hard way.
When wrestling contractor Vince McMahon decided to bring back the XFL, his first job was to look for insurance. without that, he knew that the league could not exist. Professional football requires two types of insurance: general liability and workers compensation, which is mandatory under state laws. Professional sports teams need compensation from workers, because players, unlike amateur athletes, are employees.
"This is an essential question: can I take out adequate workers' compensation insurance? Can I take out adequate general liability insurance? said Oliver Luck, commissioner of the new XFL, which should be launched next year. "It's neglected, but it's important, but beyond that, it's statutory."
McMahon spoke to Fairly, the risk management expert, whom Luck calls "the whisperer of insurance". He started his career as an ostrich insurer. Later, he headed the sports and leisure division of Willis Towers Watson, a global risk management company. He then split up in 2016 to start his own business in Texas Panhandle.
Rightly, 55 years are paid to see the future. His perspective on head injuries and risks has been shaped by a recent battle that has had huge implications for professional sports. In California, thousands of former players, mostly from the NFL and Major League Baseball, have been able to file workers' compensation claims, even if they do not. Had played only one game in this state. The law cost leagues and insurers hundreds of millions of dollars, until Fairly defended a league-funded effort, which brought the state legislature to amend the law in 2013. .
When the XFL last existed in 2001, insurance companies lined up to cover professional football.
Quite honestly had to announce the news to McMahon: At present, only one insurer was ready to cover its championship without exclusion due to head trauma.
Quite well presented McMahon to Cindy Broschart.
Cindy Broschart, president of Berkley Entertainment & Sports, is one of the most influential – and anonymous – personalities in the sport. In the era of concussions, Berkley became the only carrier willing to cover professional football in the event of head trauma. Trevor Paulhus for ESPN
"I think I am The last person standing, there is a lot of pressure on us, "Broschart told Outside the Lines. Not only about ourselves, but we report through the intermediary of two people: our CEO and our President. "
From time to time, when news about the latest football and CTE study surfaced, Broschart confided that she was receiving calls from her leaders, asking her, "Are you sure? Are you really sure?"
"You know, we hope we're sure, but I can tell you that insurance is a gamble at all costs," she told Outside the Lines.
Broschart, 60, is one of the most influential and anonymous sportsmen. In 1988, she was just starting when she was transferred from Kansas City to Dallas to head the entertainment division of Gulf Insurance, a subsidiary of Travelers. Seven months later, Jerry Jones bought the Cowboys. He needed insurance. Broschart was 30 years old and had no experience in the sport. She won the contract, largely because she knew the woman who managed risk management in a series of retirement homes that Jones owned in Arkansas.
Broschart and his long-time Vice President, Michael Harris, have slowly built a sports insurance center. In 2005, they brought their 50-strong team to WR Berkley, a $ 7 billion global insurance company led by William R. Berkley, a graduate of Harvard Business School, who created the company to raise $ 2,500 in 1967.
There is not much that Broschart has not seen. In addition to sports, Berkley Entertainment, located on an artificial lake in Irving, Texas, provides movies, television shows and rock concerts. Broschart once ensured an anaconda for a reality show in which a man dressed in a special costume would allow the snake to eat it (the man and the surviving snake). The company paid part of a $ 11 million settlement to a concert pianist whose finger had been torn by a bathroom door. Broschart was involved in another case in which a beam fell from the top of a set being edited for a Who's concert, killing a worker underneath.
"If you do not have the guts to lose, you can not be in the business," Broschart said.
Broschart's bitter gamble on football builds on three decades of experience, his belief in the enduring power of sport and Berkley's business model, which she says is equally applicable to the time of concussion. that & # 39; before.
Football, she said, is "one of those things where, no matter what state you live in, it's at the heart of the community." what has built our country – these sports and the gathering of people in their communities – – so I do not see it going away. "
Above his desk, Broschart retains an autographed photo of Nolan Ryan launcher, his fist raised, while he catches Robin Ventura's lock during their famous 1993 fight. Broschart would never say it, but the photo could be a metaphor for his relationship with the NFL. In most transactions, the richest and most powerful league has all the benefits, but not the insurer. In a striking example, the league recently asked Berkley to cover tens of millions of dollars in legal fees that the NFL ran to defend a lawsuit for prescription drugs. Broschart firmly believed that Berkley was not responsible and threatened to terminate the company's agreement to provide insurance against workplace accidents to NFL teams, a response that immediately drew the attention of the company. Attention of league leaders.
Rightly, who works to settle the dispute, refused to discuss the details. But he said that Broschart derives its authority from Berkley's exclusive position in an extremely tight market.
"It's a very powerful woman," he said. "Managing this relationship in this market is a balancing act – I have not encountered any such situation for 30 years as a broker."
Because the competition has virtually disappeared, Berkley has a virtual monopoly on professional football. The company's current contract with the NFL is for a period of seven years, an extraordinarily long period at a time when research on concussions and litigation has erupted. Broschart said the contract had been signed to allow the company to raise its prices if the environment changed.
"We must be protected," she said.
Broschart and Harris are confident that Berkley's costs will be contained. Les dommages pécuniaires liés à l'indemnisation des travailleurs sont plafonnés. Même à ce moment-là, disent-ils, il n’est pas évident que la NFL et Berkley soient sur la sellette, car les joueurs devront prouver que le football professionnel seul – et non le football des jeunes ou des collèges – est responsable de leurs blessures.
"A quel moment se manifeste-t-il vraiment?" Harris a dit. "Pour nous, c'est l'un des problèmes."
La stratégie agressive de Berkley présente un autre point de vue: la société pourrait être frappée par le type d’apocalypse financière qui a secoué l’industrie après la découverte des dangers de l’amiante. Certains courtiers croient que ce jour approche.
"Ce n'est pas juste CTE. CTE ne sera pas la partie la plus coûteuse", a déclaré un responsable de l'assurance qui a parlé à Outside the Lines sous le couvert de l'anonymat. "La démence et tous les cas de Parkinson et d'Alzheimer seront blâmés pour le football. Il y aura une foule de médecins en Californie et dans d'autres États, et ils diront: 'Je suis sûr que c'est parce que vous avez joué au football. '"
En se référant au règlement du recours collectif de la NFL, l'exécutif a ajouté: "Un milliard de dollars ressemblera au meilleur accord jamais conclu par la NFL dans le monde. Cela coûtera beaucoup plus que cela."
En grande partie hors de la vue du public, un aperçu de cela se joue en Californie. L'État dispose des lois d'indemnisation des travailleurs les plus libérales du pays. Récemment, d'anciens joueurs qui avaient conclu des ententes avec des équipes de la NFL et leurs assureurs il y a plusieurs décennies ont déposé de nouvelles demandes. Les joueurs affirment que les colonies ne couvraient pas les lésions cérébrales traumatiques.
Les tribunaux d'indemnisation des accidents du travail concordent parfois dans certains cas: le règlement conclu en 2015 par un ancien joueur pour son "préjudice industriel cumulatif", constaté en 2015, "ne s'étend pas au préjudice cumulatif alors inconnu au cerveau".
Pat Namanny, un avocat en matière d'indemnisation des travailleurs du sud de la Californie, a déclaré à Outside the Lines qu'il traitait actuellement près de 100 affaires déjà réglées dans lesquelles d'anciens joueurs de la NFL ont déposé de nouvelles demandes de réparation pour traumatisme crânien.
Jon Butler, directeur exécutif de Pop Warner football, a déclaré que l'organisation ne disposerait que de "quelques solutions possibles" si elle ne parvenait pas à obtenir une couverture d'assurance: déclarer faillite ou faire faillite. Logan Cascia pour ESPN
EN PREMIER NOVEMBRE, Deux douzaines d'assureurs se sont réunis dans une salle de réunion à Berkeley, en Californie, pour un séminaire sur les lésions cérébrales traumatiques. La table ronde était organisée par Wilson Elser LLP, un cabinet d’avocats spécialisé dans les litiges en matière de commotions cérébrales, et l’un de ses clients, Pop Warner, la plus ancienne et la plus grande organisation de football pour jeunes du pays.
Le panneau était empilé de sceptiques CTE. Parmi ceux-ci figuraient Merril Hoge, un ex-analyste de l’ESPN et demi des Steelers de Pittsburgh, et le Dr Peter Cummings, neuropathologiste de l’Université de Boston. Hoge et Cummings sont co-auteurs du livre récent "Brainwashed: La mauvaise science derrière CTE et le complot visant à détruire le football".
Les intervenants ont dit aux assureurs que presque tout ce qu'ils avaient entendu sur le CTE était faux, alimenté par l'hystérie de la science et des médias axée sur l'agenda. Le Dr Rudy Castellani, neuropathologiste de l’Université de Virginie occidentale, a déclaré que le CTE n’était ni une maladie neurodégénérative ni un problème pour les athlètes. "Il n'y a rien là-bas", a déclaré Castellani. Ann McKee, une autre panéliste, a diagnostiqué plus de cas de CTE que n'importe quel autre chercheur au pays. Hoge a accusé McKee, qui n'était pas présent, de mettre en avant des théories "non scientifiques".
Pop Warner, ses avocats et ses agents d’assurance sont un exemple des mesures prises par les organisations pour tenter d’apaiser les craintes des assureurs. Butler, directeur exécutif de Pop Warner, était également présent. Il a ajouté que Wilson Elser, soutenu par Pop Warner, avait organisé plusieurs séminaires à travers le pays "pour nous éduquer et en particulier pour le secteur des assurances".
Butler a déclaré que le ton du séminaire de Berkeley était plus strident que les autres, en partie parce que Hoge et Cummings faisaient la promotion de leur livre. Il a déclaré que d'autres séminaires offraient des points de vue plus équilibrés.
Butler a déclaré qu'il était important pour Pop Warner de présenter toutes les parties du débat scientifique sur le football et les maladies du cerveau. "Beaucoup de titres dans les médias sont bien en avance sur la science", a-t-il déclaré. "Cela devient effrayant et c'est pourquoi les assureurs font parfois ces exclusions ou modifient leurs tarifs."
La NFL, avec des milliards de dollars de revenus, peut survivre à presque tous les chocs financiers. Mais le sport chez les jeunes est différent: sans assurance, Pop Warner ne pourrait pas survivre. Butler a déclaré que l'organisation ne disposerait que de "quelques solutions possibles" si elle est incapable d'obtenir une couverture. "Les deux cas les plus évidents sont soit la faillite, soit la faillite, à l'instar de USA Gymnastics." En décembre, USA Gymnastics a déclaré faillite à la suite d'un litige à la suite du scandale d'agression sexuelle Larry Nassar.
La vague de poursuites entamée dans la NFL a frappé Pop Warner il y a trois ans. Debra Pyka a poursuivi l'organisation et Lexington Insurance dans le Wisconsin, affirmant que le suicide de son fils, âgé de 25 ans, était la "conséquence" de blessures causées par quatre années de football junior. La poursuite accusait Pop Warner de négligence pour "avoir permis à de jeunes enfants de pratiquer un sport violent de pseudo-guerrier".
Pyka a exigé 5 millions de dollars. La police de responsabilité générale de Pop Warner avec Lexington couvrait l’organisation jusqu’à 2 millions de dollars.
C'était un cas difficile à prouver. Pyka devait prouver que le suicide de son fils était lié non seulement à CTE, mais également à son bref passage dans le football junior. Dans les journaux, Pop Warner a déclaré que Pyka menait "une croisade publique pour interdire le football. Ce procès est le mauvais véhicule pour cette croisade".
Avant qu’un juge ne puisse statuer sur une requête en irrecevabilité, Pop Warner a réglé avec Pyka pour moins de 2 millions de dollars (les termes n’ont pas été dévoilés). Butler s'est dit satisfait, suggérant que le règlement était bien inférieur à la limite d'assurance. Mais il a dit que Pop Warner n’avait guère le choix.
"En fin de compte, ce n'est pas notre décision", a déclaré Butler. "Nous avons eu notre mot à dire, mais finalement, c’était les compagnies d’assurance."
Lorsque Pop Warner est allé renouveler sa police de trois ans, Lexington, une filiale d’AIG, a refusé de fournir une couverture sans exclusion – pas seulement pour les commotions cérébrales, mais pour toute lésion neurologique. "Si [all] those are excluded, that's pretty scary," Butler said. A spokesman for AIG declined to comment. When Pop Warner went to look for another carrier five years ago, Butler said just one would provide coverage without an exclusion: Scottsdale Insurance, a subsidiary of Nationwide that specializes in high-risk businesses and individuals.
Scottsdale limited Pop Warner's policy to one year, meaning Pop Warner would have to renew its insurance annually. The insurer plays a direct role in player safety. Over the past several years, Pop Warner has significantly reduced contact during practices and eliminated the kickoff at the three youngest age levels. Butler said the organization annually presents its rulebook and risk management manual to Scottsdale for review. A Scottsdale spokesman confirmed that it insures Pop Warner but declined further comment.
Butler called Pop Warner the "canary in the coal mine." He said the effort to educate the insurance industry is supported by other youth sports organizations that fear they will be unable to obtain insurance because of litigation. In November, for example, a federal appeals court reinstated a class-action lawsuit that accused USA Water Polo of failing to protect athletes who were sent back into games after suffering concussions.
"Certainly, if insurance goes away, it's not going to be just football. It's going to be all of youth sports," Butler said. "I think it would be the proverbial domino effect."
Robert Westbrook, a 230-pound linebacker for Glendale Community College in Arizona, says football got his life back on track, and he is heartbroken over Maricopa County Community Colleges' decision to eliminate football due to insurance cost concerns. Bill Roach for ESPN
IN MID-NOVEMBER, in the baking Arizona heat, Robert Westbrook, a 230-pound linebacker for Glendale Community College, stood on a football field, crying.
"Junior college football is almost a lifesaver for me," he said. "So I'm really emotional they're getting rid of it."
Glendale, a three-time junior college national champion, had lost 44-17 to rival Scottsdale. It wasn't just Glendale's final game of the season. It was the school's final game — forever. Earlier in the year, the Maricopa County Community Colleges had announced that it was eliminating football, a decision that killed off four teams: Glendale, Scottsdale, Mesa and Phoenix.
Westbrook hugged his teammates hard after the game. After he got out of the Marine Corps, he said, "I was making some bad decisions. Junior college football got my life together, got me back on track." Ryan Felker, Mesa's head coach, predicted, "It's going to affect a lot of young men in the next few years. It's going to affect our communities."
As emotional as they were, Maricopa's players and coaches did not fully understand why football was over for them.
Maricopa is one of the largest community college districts in the country, with 10 schools and more than 200,000 students. Faced with a sudden loss of state funding, the district took a hard look at its finances.
One line item was jarring: football.
Specifically, Maricopa found that it was spending more than $1 million a year on accident and catastrophic insurance premiums. More than 30 percent of that cost, $319,000, went toward the district's four teams. "When you see it in black and white, it pops right off the page at you," said Sheri Swain, the district's director of enterprise risk management.
A task force, noting that football also accounted for more than half of sports insurance claims in the community college system, recommended eliminating the sport.
The administration and the district governing board knew the decision would be controversial. One board member, Dana Saar, was a 69-year-old lifelong Green Bay Packers fan who for 25 years had served as public address announcer for a local high school football team. When Saar heard that football was suddenly on the chopping block, he was incredulous.
"Then I started looking into it," he said.
More than the annual insurance costs, Saar was alarmed by the potential liability if former players sued the district for brain injuries. "We're not big enough to cover our future legal issues," he said. "It would be borne by us because our insurance companies are hedging significantly on whether or not that's going to be covered in the future."
The specter of huge legal payouts is "potentially catastrophic for public colleges and high schools," Saar said. "The lawyers, they're drooling over this."
Saar decided to support chancellor Maria Harper-Marinick, who made the decision after consulting with him and other board members. The announcement immediately provoked a community backlash.
Colleges across all levels have been disrupted by the threat of litigation, sowing chaos for insurers whose policies are spread across decades and involve hundreds of schools, conferences and governing bodies.
Over the past five years, well more than 100 individual lawsuits have been filed against the NCAA and its members seeking damages for traumatic brain injuries. Last June, the first trial involving football and CTE ended after three days. The NCAA abruptly settled with the widow of a former University of Texas linebacker and defensive tackle who was diagnosed with the disease after his death in 2015 — 44 years after he last played.
Plaintiff attorneys predicted that the settlement would lead to more lawsuits. "That will bust open the floodgates, the NCAA settling midtrial," said Paul Anderson, a sports attorney in Kansas City, Missouri, who has been heavily involved in concussion litigation.
John Breckenridge, a former tight end at Sacramento State University and the CEO of SquarePeg Insurance Solutions, a new company that connects colleges and insurers, said he fears that a problem that began in the NFL has become "very threatening" to the entire sport.
"It's taken a while, but it's trickling down to each level of the game," he said. "I don't know that the general public really understands it. There's only so much that the liability market can take or will take."
Greg Amante, a producer in ESPN's Enterprise and Investigative Unit, Andrew Webber of the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, and Adam Conway of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law contributed to this story.