Ken McClain figured the National Football League was preparing to screw his clients. Question was, just how badly?

A Kansas City-based attorney, McClain represents two dozen former professional football players in their mid-30s to 60s whom he says suffer from depression, impulsivity, and other life-altering symptoms of brain damage—damage presumably accumulated during years of on-the-job helmet-knocking. In theory, all of them ought to be covered by the proposed NFL concussion lawsuit settlement; a multimillion dollar class action agreement that promises to compensate ailing retirees and is moving toward final approval in federal court.

In practice, McClain discovered, the deal works a bit differently.

Over a two-month span and at a rough cost of $10,000 per person, McClain says, he had his clients screened using the specific neurocognitive tests and diagnoses spelled out in the settlement. He then had those same former players evaluated by doctors at Boston University who specialize in chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), football's industrial disease—a neurodegenerative condition that was found in the brain tissue of deceased retirees Junior Seau and Mike Webster and sits at the heart of both the suits against the league and the damning investigative journalism of the documentary League of Denial.

The results?

"Our worst fears were realized," McClain says. "We found our players had significant emotional and impulse control problems that according to [Boston University] are tied to head injury. All of our guys. And none of them qualify for awards under the settlement.

"It's a bogus deal. A fraudulent deal on its face, completely illusory, designed to pay very few people except the lawyers and the players in the most extreme [illness] category. All of these men saddled with neurological problems throughout their lifetimes are not the NFL's concern. The NFL's concern is containing risk, just as if they were [General Motors] and these players are faulty ignitions."