Sheilla Dingus founded Advocacy for Fairness in Sports in October 2016 with the mission of providing access and analysis of sports law cases which focus on the rights and wellbeing of athletes and advocating on behalf of athletes in their quests for equity, fairness, and justice. In those early days, Advocacy for Fairness in Sports concentrated on a small handful of cases, but as time passed, quickly began tracking scores of lawsuits including the litigation that resulted in the NFL Concussion Settlement, which became final after the Supreme Court declined to grant certiorari in December 2016. Advocacy for Fairness in Sports soon became a principal source of information for retired NFL players and the public as the litigation entered the settlement implementation phase, plagued with troubling delays and denials at every turn.
In addition to reporting, Ms. Dingus frequently interacts with retired players and their families to keep them informed about settlement developments and assists in connecting them with resources to aid them in asserting their rights.
In the first two and a half years of operation, Advocacy for Fairness in Sports has gathered approximately 10,000 legal documents as well as interviewing scores of people involved in the concussion settlement and other cases, and occasionally traveling to important court proceedings in order to provide timely first-person information.
Investigative reporting is expensive but Advocacy for Fairness in Sports recognizes its importance, and on April 24, 2019, incorporated as a nonprofit in the State of Tennessee in order to expand and continue to provide coverage that isn’t commonly found in mainstream media, which unfortunately has downsized the investigative functions at some newspapers and online sources, as others such as Vice Sports and Vocativ have been shuttered in recent years. Advocacy for Fairness in Sports has retained attorney Rebecca Ketchie of Wilson Worley PC to assist in creating organizing documents and filing for 501(c)(3) standing with the Internal Revenue Service.
On Saturday, June 8, 2019, we held our first Board Meeting and elected the following officers.
- Sheilla Dingus, President
- A. Habiba Youssouf, Vice President
- Derek Helling, Secretary-Treasurer
We will now begin fundraising efforts in order to further our mission of advocating on behalf of athletes and providing quality investigative journalism in cases involving athlete rights. Typical monthly expenses hover around $200.00 per month, and costs related to maintaining our reporting over the past year sits at about $5,000. This includes accessing court documents, a pricey legal subscription that aids in keeping us informed of new cases, travel to important hearings, and other incidentals such as domain hosting and registration as well as some of the widgets used on the site. As such, we hope that you will consider contributing in order to keep our work sustainable and aid our 100% volunteer staff in continuing to provide superior coverage and analysis for these important issues as we seek to expand and provide even more services and information.
Recently Advocacy for Fairness in Sports created a Document Cloud account with the purpose of providing free public access to the legal documents of the sports law cases we cover and track. Habiba is in the process of creating a master calendar of sports law educational events. Becoming a nonprofit will also grant us standing to intervene in litigation in which important information is sealed (such as the NFL’s litigation with its insurers), and we hope will enable us to financially have the means to pursue these documents and others as the need arises, or on an as-needed basis, retain top-notch counsel to provide amicus support when appropriate.
We hope by year’s end to also establish a fund to aid neurocognitively impaired retired NFL players in obtaining MAF examinations so that they can participate in and hopefully receive compensation from the settlement fund. This will become a pressing need as the clock ticks on in the settlement. Since the deadline for pre-effective date claims has passed, there are two paths for retired players to obtain a qualifying diagnosis. The first is the Baseline Assessment Program (BAP), which is free, but based on an extremely narrow legal standard qualifying only about five percent of players tested thus far. Players receive only one two-part BAP examination and if they do not qualify for compensation through the BAP program, they must be retested through the Monetary Award Fund (MAF) program which though stringent is less rigid and permits diagnoses “generally consistent” with BAP protocols. These exams typically run between $6,000 to $8,000 and can climb to $10,000 if neuropsychological testing is necessary. Many MAF providers do not accept insurance, therefore, a player must be able to put forth a large amount of money to qualify him for compensation. In the past, most attorneys assisted their players financially with obtaining these examinations, but fewer and fewer firms have been able to continue the practice due to the claims administrator’s overly vigilant vetting of claims, which often includes audits, and should a claim be approved, fighting sometimes multiple appeals by the NFL in addition to at times, multiple audits of the same claim. In other words, attorneys are seeing an enormous amount of work to see a claim through to approval, and investing in the medical is becoming viewed as a risk that many attorneys can no longer afford to take.
This seems to be another masterfully orchestrated scheme by the NFL to shirk accountability to its retired players. A player can have a diagnosis from 10 top specialists, but it doesn’t matter how many neurologists diagnose a player with impairment–if the neurologist is not a MAF program physician, the diagnosis will not be acceptable. Since many veteran players, especially those who retired prior to 1993 are living on near poverty level pensions, the NFL is well aware they won’t be able to afford and obtain the examinations that would qualify them for compensation. We can, however, thwart that plan by aiding players in paying for those exams.
As part of our expanding coverage and mission we hope to be adding additional writers, who are experts on the topics they’ll be covering as well as procuring additional volunteer reporters and enabling them to do investigative research and reporting through providing them free access to court documents, subscription only resources and other types of support as needed to get the story right.
We hope that you’ll be joining us on this journey, and we will be providing updates in the coming days as to the various ways you can help, but here’s a start. Every donation, no matter how small or how large will be immensely appreciated and help us to achieve our goals.