On May 3rd, 2012 the Associated Press announced more than 100 retired football players filed a federal lawsuit against the National Football League in Atlanta. These 100 players are just a few, in the now more than 1,000 cases pending against the NFL. “The cases say not enough was done to inform players about the dangers of concussions in the past, and not enough is done to take care of them today,” according to the Associated Press of Atlanta.
With new studies appearing monthly about the dangers of concussions and the lasting impact brain trauma can have, players are starting to question whether the NFL has or had their best interest at heart. With such obvious risk to the players, the issue arises of whether the NFL has a responsibility to take care of players who sacrificed their physical well being for the sport. In recent news, Junior Seau, former All-American and MVP middle linebacker, was found dead in his home, with what is believed to have been a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.
Chris Henry, Owen Thomas and Dave Duerson are just a few other former members of the National Football League who after dedicating everything to the NFL took their own lives. The disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, according to the Journal of Forensic Nursing is, “a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic sub-concussive hits to the head. Some of the early symptoms associated with CTE are deterioration in attention, concentration, memory, disorientation, confusion, headaches, impeded speech and poor judgment. As the disease progresses into the second stage individuals suffer from social instability, erratic behavior, memory loss and early signs of Parkinson’s. The third and final stage of CTE consists of full on dementia, speech difficulties, extreme depression, dysphasia (difficulty swallowing) and suicidal thoughts and tendencies (SportsMD).
Players feel as though the NFL has a responsibility to retired and current players to further educate and compensate those individuals who are affected by brain trauma sustained while playing the game. I believe when a player joins the NFL they sacrifice their health for the average half a million-dollar salary, the fame and glory associated with playing and for the love of the game. More and more players are stepping forward and are beginning to voice their concerns and opinions about the dangers associated with head injuries they incurred while playing professional football.
According to the NFL Head Injury Lawsuits Claim Center, the NFL persistently refused to acknowledge a serious problem. The problem is that thousands of former players with head injuries have neurological issues that require long-term medical treatment. The players need help and the NFL with its billions of dollars in profits is ignoring them (Kyros). The lawsuits against the NFL hopes to ensure the long-term health care, compensation and education of all players and spectators alike, of the dangers associated with playing football.
William Kyros explains, The lawsuits are premised on the idea that the NFL routinely downplayed, and ignored medical science about the long-term effects of multiple concussions, and head trauma. The NFL had a duty to act, warn its players and change the rules about when play would be appropriate. There is very strong evidence that the NFL knew about these health problems but ignored them in pursuit of profit.
If failing to notice neurological health issues in thousands of former players over the past decades wasn’t sufficient, there have been many studies in which the NFL should have noticed a trend: that repeated head trauma had caused long term problems in former players. With these lawsuits being filed, studies have released an immense amount of information relating to the trends associated with players who have reportedly suffered multiple concussions and other forms of brain trauma.
A study released in 2000 of over 1000 players with concussions concluded the studied group had more memory, concentration, speech, headaches, and neurological problems than other players (Jackson). In 2002 a well-known forensic pathologist at the University of Pittsburg found the rare brain disease CTE in five deceased football players that led to their early deaths (Kyros). A 2007 study conducted at the University of North Carolina’s center for the study of retired athletes, found that depression for players that suffered concussions was triple the amount than other players (Jackson).
A subsequent study found football players had memory related diseases at a rate of nineteen times more than normal men (Kyros). In an article by Arthur Lazarus entitled “NFL: Concussions and Common Sense” a specific incident involving concussions during the season opener for the Philadelphia Eagles is examined. During the opening minutes of the game both Quarterback Kevin Kolb and Linebacker Stewart Bradley suffered apparent concussions. As is protocol for the Eagles and all NFL teams both players were subjected, on the sidelines, to a series of tests performed by team physicians and other medical staff.
Despite the serious impact both players suffered they were deemed physically able to rejoin the game. After the game, coach Andy Reid was questioned and he stated, “They were fine. All the questions that they answered and the things they did with the team docs registered. As the game continued they weren’t feeling well, so we took them out. ” It was later discovered that both Kolb and Bradley indeed did suffer from concussions. The media, as can be imagined had a field day with this.
Lazarus made four arguments in the article about the improper handling of the concussions, sighting there was a disregard for the common sense guidelines for concussions, there was a communication break down between players and physicians, dated equipment was to blame and the enormous pressure on players presented by the coaches, to return to the game (Lazarus). The 2009 updated guideline for managing concussions states, “a player with a concussion should not return to the game if he has lost consciousness or manifests confusion, amnesia, neurological symptoms, or a new or persistent headache. In regards to the communication breakdown on the Eagles sidelines, the medical staff was never informed that Bradley was nearly knocked unconscious on the field. Kolb’s equipment, specifically his helmet, was a model released in 1988 and certainly was not the most technologically advanced. The final issue relayed by Lazarus was pertaining to the immense amount of pressure athletes are under from coaches to return to the game, essentially playing hurt. The NFL players union, the retired players union and the numerous lawsuits being filed all have one underlying theme.
They believe the NFL has known the dangers that are associated with playing football and have withheld that information from the players. Lawyers believe that the National Football League has, for many years, ignored and may have actively withheld medical proof that players were subjecting themselves to long term health problems caused by both concussions and ordinary repetitive head contact (Kyros). Furthermore, both players and lawyers alike believe that by failing to inform players of the long-term risks faced, the NFL should be held to account to help the players who have been injured and forgotten (Kyros).
So, can any person feasibly say, without a shadow of a doubt, the NFL made a conscious effort to ignore and mask the dangers of head trauma and has done nothing to improve upon safety regulations and rule changes to eliminate them? Absolutely not! Yearly, monthly, even weekly, the NFL modifies rules, improves equipment, offers exemplary medical experts and works towards maintaining a safe field of play. Obviously, as the years progress, so to does the size, strength, speed and intensity of the game. In the last two decades, defensive ends have gone from weighing an average 230 pounds to well over 300.
Despite the gain in size, forty times have either improved or remained much the same (Weir). What has the NFL done in order to provide a safer playing field? Over the past decade there have been over twenty-five rule changes that were enacted specifically in order to provide more safety on the field. In 2010, the NFL reformed the helmet-to-helmet contact rule. In order to reduce concussions and protect players the new rule states, any player leading with the head (initiating contact with the helmet first) that makes contact with another’s head is an automatic 15-yard penalty and the instigator could face fines and suspensions (Weir).
In 2009 the NFL altered the “wedge” rule. Previously, during kick-offs, the receiving team created a wedge, or flying V, as part of their blocking scheme (Jackson). This wedge formation inspired epic hits and saw numerous injuries as a result. In regards to the allegations that the NFL doesn’t educate its players on the dangers associated with concussions, they actually go a step further. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, partnered with the Center for Disease Control, in creating a poster to hang in junior high and high schools around the country.
Goodell says, “We ask every school to hang this poster in every locker room across the country. We are changing the culture of the NFL with regard to concussions. We also recognize that the risks of concussions go beyond the professional ranks and beyond football – and so does the NFL’s dedication to make sports safer. ” Changes in rules, as stated earlier, even happen weekly so as to ensure each player is getting the best medical attention possible. In week sixteen of the 2012 season, the commissioner’s office instituted a new in-game concussion protocol.
As reported by Will Brinson of CBS Sports, the new policy mandates that during each game a certified athletic trainer, not directly associated with the teams playing, will be responsible for the oversight and inspection of all players who experience potentially traumatic blows to the head. Furthermore, coaches, team physicians and the normal athletic trainers will not be able to overrule any decisions made by the attending “expert” athletic trainer (Brinson). Rule changes, concussion awareness ads and increased attention to detail are not the only way the NFL has made strides to ensure player safety.
Riddell, the contracted supplier of football helmets for the NFL from 1990 to the end of the 2013 season has made remarkable leaps and bounds towards designing the safest and smartest helmet possible. Not only is Riddell known in the football world as creating the safest and sturdiest helmets, their patented Head Impact Telemetry System (HITS), records every frequency and severity of impacts to a player received during games (Riddell). The innovative HITS software and Sideline Response System will provide coaches and trainers with immediate and accurate information regarding the severity of helmet impacts on the field.
As of now, some teams have begun to use these systems and it is Riddell’s belief we will see an emergence and integration of this software on all playing fields (Riddell). According to Forbes Magazine, the NFL generated over $7. 5 billion dollars in the 2011 season. Typically speaking, an NFL team is expected to have a total payroll of between $81 million and $140 million dollars a year. Across the board, teams have a median salary ranging from $540,000 to $1. 15 million dollars per player (USAToday).
The Kansas City Chiefs have the lowest salary cap of all NFL teams, about $81 million. Of that $81 million, Ricky Price, the lowest paid player in the NFL made $310,000 (USAToday). Currently the average playing career of a professional football player is a little over three years. If Ricky Price played three years in the NFL, without endorsements, he would earn $930,000. Along with their salaries, players receive health insurance for themselves and their families. Players are spending and living lifestyles beyond their means.
Yes, playing in the NFL is a grueling and dangerous profession, but players are rewarded handsomely and are provided numerous opportunities to save for their future. Mike Martin of the Cincinnati Bengals said, “I knew going into this business there’d be consequences, but the pay was great, I was doing what I loved and now in dealing with the consequences. ” The NFL offers money management classes, has numerous retirement plans, has an extensive pension program and has programs built in to help with transitioning from playing to entering the working world.
Players should concentrate on spending wisely and prepare more efficiently for the day when football will not be their only way to make money. I believe players are finding themselves in a financial crisis because they have not made the appropriate preparations for the day they retire. Players like Tiki Barber and Glenn Coffee, just two examples, recognized early that football was not always going to be an option for them and left the game early to pursue other forms of business.
For many players, its not the money alone that drives them to compete at the highest level possible, but the fame and glory achieved on the field. The argument has been made that players are hurried to re-join the game after injuries, often before they are fully healed. It’s not a fair statement however, that football players don’t want to re-enter the field as quickly as possible. I believe players push themselves because they feel the most alive when they intercept the ball, block a field goal, score the game winning touchdown or win the Super Bowl.
In a survey of the 1988 Bengals team of the thirty-nine players asked if they would go back and play again, 37 said they would suit up all over again, even knowing the games residual impact. We knew the dangers, chose to participate and understood there would be physical consequences down the road (King). Through grueling practices, hours of watching tape, a life commitment to the game, players can forever immortalize themselves by winning. Mark Sanchez said, “It’s a tremendous honor. It really is a privilege, not just a right. You’re in the NFL and you wear the shield now.
It means the world to me; stepping onto the football field. ” When asked what it feels like to step onto the football field and play in front of thousands of fans, the great Tom Landry responded, “Football is an incredible game. Sometimes it’s so incredible, it’s unbelievable. ” Player’s recognize the risks of playing, they understand their life in the NFL is limited, they know money comes and goes, but the chance to go down in the record books as the best, the strongest, the hardest hitting outweighs any potential injury that might occur.
Terry Bradshaw might have said it best, “As a player, it says everything about you if you made the Hall of Fame. But, then again, boy… there’s something special about winning a Super Bowl. ” Above the money and above the glory, is the love of the game. For these men, football is a way of life. By the time a player reaches the NFL, depending on when they entered the draft out of college, they have devoted, starting in peewee’s around fourteen years to the game. The level of dedication necessary to succeed at the professional level requires a life commitment. I’d do it again in a minute. The NFL affords a great lifestyle. Are there inherent risks? Yeah, but those coal miners in West Virginia and down in Chile, they have inherent risks in their jobs. Are you kidding me? To play a sport I love the whole time and to just lose a knee, priceless,” Ray Horton said when asked about the risks involved with football and whether he would do it again. Football players, like all professional athletes love the sport they play. They are willing to sacrifice everything simply to play another down.
Take Peyton Manning for example, the man, knowing good and well that the next hit he takes could end his career or even his life, wants nothing more than to get back on the field. Brett Favre is another example, he didn’t need the money, he already had the fame and glory, but retiring meant closing the door on a chapter of his life that means more to him than life its self. An anonymous player from the 1992 Green Bay Packers team said, “I’d do it again today. It wouldn’t make a difference. I’ve been out now 16 years, and I still dream football.
Something psychologically in there still wants me to play. ” Football, to these men, is more than a sport; it is their calling, a way of life. Yes, the rise in concussions and the onslaught of CTE are pressing issues that must be rectified. The NFL must continue to strive to make game play as safe as possible, while maintaining the integrity of the game. To say however that the NFL should be held directly responsible for injured players, I believe is a stretch. The athletes understand the risks associated and to purport they don’t is preposterous.
Obviously, there is a soft spot in everyone’s hearts to those players and families of players who are affected by long-term injuries, just as there is a soft spot in our hearts to the men and women who fight and die for our country. The athletes of the NFL, in my eyes are the greatest athletes in the world. They play a violent and tumultuous sport, where accidents are inevitable. Through handsome salaries, fame gained on the field and the opportunity to play the game they so greatly love, to me, is all the compensation they need.