As the NFL mourns the loss of LB Junior Seau, it is time for a serious introspective discussion on whether or not the NFL, or even the game of football in general can survive the current concussion crisis. The NFL is currently scrambling in order to “make the game safer”, but this isn’t the first time in history the game of football has been under fire as being unsafe. This time, issues surrounding the game are very different. Football generates an outrageous amount of money in American society, add in a litigious atmosphere in society and you come up with the recipe for potential disaster.
The NFL is enjoying unprecedented popularity. Currently, the league is generating approximately $9 billion dollars a year and expects to double that number in the next decade. That, my friends, is a very large cash cow and a massive target not even figuring in the money which NCAA programs generate. If you don’t think that the countless numbers of trial attorneys in America aren’t looking at that wad of cash and salivating, you are sadly mistaken. CBS Sports reports that close to 1,700 former players are involved in litigation against the NFL. Yes, the NFL has made changes to the game currently, but if it can be proven that the dangers of concussions were known in past years, then we have another Phillip Morris tobacco lawsuit all over again with potential for disaster within the NFL ownership ranks.
An article, published on grantland.com by Tyler Cowen and Kevin Grier in February of this year, outlines exactly how the end of football in this country might occur. The pair of economists do a very good job breaking down the current economic reality facing a very wealthy league. The authors propose that the removal of football would potentially start in the college ranks, with schools unable to defend themselves from lawsuits, eventually shutting down their programs. Several schools fund the vast majority of their entire sports programs from the money generated from their football program. The losses would be potentially disastrous to various programs.
The current concussion crisis does threaten the very existence of the game of football, but this is not the first time the game was put in jeopardy. Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, 18 college and amateur players died as a result of a playing football in an environment which didn’t provide the equipment players wear today and didn’t afford players the safety of the litany of rules applied to the modern day game. In 1905, President Teddy Roosevelt threatened to abolish football if the game did not change through the use of an Executive Order. The collegiate game changed, deaths decreased, as did injuries, and Roosevelt is credited as the President who saved the game of football.
Would a President of the United States in the modern era be so bold as to threaten the same thing? Not a chance. No President in my lifetime ever accrued enough political capital to pull off such a move. Just imagine the outrage in the social media world today if such a move was even discussed. The NFL owners, players, television networks, advertisers and whether or not the NFL and the NCAA acknowledge them- Las Vegas, would unleash the firestorm of lobbyists from hell in order to fight such a move.
However, what I could envision politically though is an endless parade of hearings on Capitol Hill by those former players and family members currently suing the NFL. Every Congressperson loves to get their face plastered on television and this would be high profile testimony. You think Congress wouldn’t get involved if asked? See baseball and steroids. Simply think back to last year and how the players union wanted to get Congress involved in order to remove the Anti-Trust exemption on the NFL owners during the lockout.
Some current NFL players have stuck their head in the sand and simply believe that the NFL is out to get the players. Speaking recently over the NFL’s sanctions handed down on Bounty-gate, Chicago Bears LB Lance Briggs said that the NFL is becoming a flag football league. No one has been more critcal in recent years of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and his internationalist expansion ideas than I, but I side with Mr. G on this issue. Hundreds of players join as well as exit the game of professional football every year, Mr. Goodell is trying to do all in his power to protect the game of football, doing what he calls, “protecting the shield”.
Messrs. Cowen and Grier scribed that they believe the end of football in this country could happen as soon as 10 to 15 years. Current Baltimore Ravens player Bernard Pollard has stated he believes that “in another 20-30 years” football will be extinct.
Football fans should not lull themselves into a false sense of security that the game will be around forever. Yes, the game of football, especially at the NFL, is experiencing unprecedented success right now. Despite a 2011 offseason filled with labor strife and an owner’s lockout, the NFL enjoyed record viewership in 2012. 50 years ago boxing and baseball were the king of the hill, they are at the bottom of the pecking order of professional sports currently. The same can happen to football.
Once a concrete, bulletproof link between football concussions and dementia and or depression is created, the end will be near. We can expect to see the asbestos class action suit advertisements by trial attorneys on television to be replaced with a new ones. Played football? Suffer a concussion? Call 1-800-SUE-NOW. If you think I’m kidding, former Ohio State QB Art Schlichter, who has had a three decade long run-in with the law after gambling issues and financial scams, now suddenly claims concussions on his behavior. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what might be a long, slippery slide down to the bottom over the next decade for the game of football.
Filed under: NFL