To say that concussions could ruin the NFL for fans doesn’t exactly tell the whole story. Fans themselves are in no danger of getting concussions, unless of course you’re going to a 49er’s game and you might get a concussion in the stadium bathroom or parking lot (see previous post on fan violence). But in all seriousness, I’m not trying to take an issue that seriously threatens the health and safety of other individuals and making it all about how it affects the fans. I’m not unsympathetic to the NFL player or the former NFL players who suffer through their injuries and the after effects of their injuries. However, the attention that this has brought to the league will most definitely has a chance to affect the sport, even before it’s proven if it actually affects every player in the sport.
There are a lot of things that will always serve as a disconnect between the players and fans of the NFL. The main issue is compensation and that will always be an issue. The other disconnect between the fan and player is the physical commitment to the game. Sure we may follow our teams from birth, have logos tattooed, travel all over the country to watch games, etc. But we are by no means coming close to the physical commitment to the game the players make, not even in the same breath. We give up our money and time to our teams; they give up their bodies and health. The NFL has always been a violent game, since the days of leather helmets the main objective for the defense is to separate man from ball or try by any means necessary to prevent the offense from scoring. That’s what we enjoy watching, and honestly that’s what the players enjoy doing. But in this day and age where media outlets that do not regularly cover the NFL are doing specials on the safety concerns of playing football, the POTUS is asked whether or not he would feel comfortable letting his son play the game if he had one, and 4,000+ former NFL players are suing the league over head injuries, not to mention the Commish’s never ending hypocritical stance on player safety; the game we all know and love could be in danger.
Last month, Baltimore Ravens safety Bernard Pollard predicted the death of football as we know it in the next 30 years. His prediction was that the NFL rule makers would be lightening the game up little by little, more flags being thrown, more players fined, more rules implemented to protect certain positions and as a result the fans will give up on the sport entirely. Not likely. We’ll be pissed, we’ll scream at the TV a whole lot more than we do now, we will flood the internet and message boards with a whole lot more complains over officiating and whatnot but I doubt we’ll give up entirely. The biggest opposition to the concussion awareness movement is the fact that most players and fans alike don’t want to see anything in the game changed.
Right now the lawsuit between the 4,000+ former NFL players and the NFL over how head injuries were dealt with could be the biggest cause for concern over where the league is headed in regards to rules changes and such to protect, or give the image of protection, for player safety. We all know that while Rogeez will tout player safety in one press conference he’ll just as passionately argue for additional regular season games, playoff expansion, and anything else that will extend the game and put more money in the wallets of the owners and NFL executives. The message has been mixed for a while. Without going into too much detail (because the Commissioner will be getting his very own post in this series of things ruining the NFL for fans) the way Rogeez has handled this issue initially has lead to the biggest worries for fans. The lawsuit threatens the NFL in the way that causes the most damage, in their pockets. The lawsuit is being set up in similar fashion to the 1998 Tobacco Settlements in which former players are alleging that the NFL had prior knowledge of the after affects and dangers of head injuries and purposely withheld that information from its players.
Whether or not they can actually prove that remains to be seen. Surely there would have to be documents, emails, medical reports, and testimony from previous eras in which the NFL personnel and executives were trying to hide information from the players just like in the tobacco case. The massive growing list of players joining the case represents a threat to both sides of the table, in my opinion. The bigger the number joining the lawsuit makes for bigger headlines in the media and puts more pressure on the NFL but also dilutes the amount of players who might actually be suffering and in need. How many of these 4,000+ are actually suffering from mental and physical health problems and how many are out of money and think they’re entitled? There is a dangerous double standard in the NFL by the players, fans, and the media in which a player who plays through injury is considered a “warrior” whereas a player who is constantly on the sidelines is labled as “soft” or “injury prone”. There’s no denying that we know now that head injuries can lead to all kinds of health issues in the future but the responsibility for those head injuries and their lingering effects remains to be seen. Junior Seau most notably, committed suicide last year and his brain was found to have tested positive for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a neurodegenerative disease that might lead to dementia, memory loss, and depression and has been linked to be caused by repeated head trauma. Seau’s name never appeared on an injury report for a concussion during his 20 year career in the NFL. Does that mean he never had one? No. Does that mean he might have hid symptoms from his trainers, coaches and team doctors? Probably. Is the NFL responsible for his death? I’m not in any position to even attempt to answer that question.
The main point I’m trying to get across with this post is that, as a diehard fan of the NFL, the real NFL, I want the game improved to protect players’ safety in ways that doesn’t change the face of the game I’ve loved all my life. I’d like to see the safety measures reflected in the equipment the players get, consistent penalty calling and player fines, and not in turning the NFL into a glorified flag football league. I would hope that the changes the NFL can and will make in the attempt to make an inherently violent game less violent will be mindful and effective. There has to be responsibility taken by all parties involved, too. We as fans shouldn’t condemn a player for sitting out with an injury or praise him for playing through it, we’ve got to be somewhere in the middle. You can’t eliminate injuries completely, but how you treat them can make all the difference in the world.
What are your thoughts, Steeler Nation? Do you fear for the future of the NFL because of the growing concern over player safety?