At What Cost?

The NFL is playing a dangerous game with its players…

by Peter Dadlez

Every Sunday people all around the United States gather together in places of worship of grotesque proportions. They mindlessly contribute money to a cause they believe in. They have objects and clothing in their homes to celebrate whom they worship. For some, their lives are consumed by it. I’m talking about the Catholic church right?

No… I’m actually talking about the National Football League.

All the time, day in and day out from August during the NFL’s pre-season until February for the Super Bowl, millions and millions of diehard football fans are consumed by everything that is football. From playing weekly fantasy games, to Madden video games, to the constant advertising and merchandising, to sports news networks having wall to wall coverage of all the latest news in the league, “The National Football League has become a 24–7 reality television show that dominates the news cycle year-round.” says Mike Ozanian of Forbes. It isn’t the fan’s fault that they are so consumed by football. They don’t know any better. The fans see the NFL for what they want to see, and that’s mostly because all the fans care about is rooting for their team. They don’t care about bad press, public criticism regarding social issues, or the abuse players suffer on the field during games throughout the season. The fans simply want content, and a lot of it. They don’t care about what they need to hear, they care about what they want to hear. Most fans fail to realize how hypocritical the NFL is when it comes to how it treats its players and fans. This needs to change immediately.

The NFL wants to make the world think that player safety is one of their top priorities, but in reality they don’t reflect that with their actions. In an article from SB Nation, players give their opinion on the introduction of Thursday Night games throughout the season. Richard Sherman, a cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks who is regarded as one of the best in the league at his position and a known loud-mouth off the field critic of his employer revealed his opinion on playing in Thursday Night games by saying “It’s rough on the body. Any time you play a football game and play another one a few days later, it’s going to be tough on the body.” Along with Sherman, Arian Foster, a running back for the Houston Texans came at the topic more directly by saying the NFL is “putting every player on the football field in danger.” Sherman and Foster are both right. This is another example of the NFL simply wanting to make profit from television networks by increasing the coverage from Sunday and Monday to Sunday, Monday, and Thursday. Teams generally take five to six days to prepare for their opponent who they generally face each week on Sunday afternoon, but when teams are handed a Thursday Night game on their schedule, they look at it and scour. They only have three days to prepare for their opponent. A three day time span between one week’s game and the next doesn’t allow for the players to physically recuperate from the the grueling week before. If players don’t have sufficient time to rest and prepare so they can do their jobs at the level they are being payed to play at, then their physical condition will greatly suffer over a long period of time. It’s not rocket science. The human body wasn’t meant to withstand high impact over and over like we see in football. According to former player Antwaan Randle-El “Football players are in a car wreck every week,” with the hits they take.

Yet, us fans still watch the game because we love watching our favorite team score touchdowns. People even glorify extremely violent hits and put them in montages with music and all the fixings. This is what fans need to be trending away from. As fans, why are we celebrating violence toward another player? If one of our favorite players got obliterated by a hit we would absolutely not be celebrating it, but when it isn’t our team then we don’t care at all. That is the unfortunate truth nowadays.

Although, I can see where these fans are coming from by idolizing the players like gods. I too have been blinded by the light. Ever since I can remember I have been a fan of the Green Bay Packers. Every time they are on TV I’m glued to the couch for a few hours watching my favorite players score touchdown after touchdown. I love football. When I was a child it was all I dreamed about. I wanted to be an NFL quarterback so bad, and that’s what the NFL wants every kid to think. Their goal is to glamourize the sport, and why wouldn’t they? Loads of money, praise from millions, celebrity… who would pass that up if they got the chance?

But as I’ve grown older I’ve realized that the world is a different place than the one I knew as a child, more reality and less dreaming. The real world is harsh and cutthroat. The NFL is a business, and like most businesses it has a revolving door. There is always another person who can get the job done, and the league knows this very, very well. Everyone is expendable. Someone else’s loss is another’s gain.

The realization that players are expendable is where the problems begin for the NFL. Could the NFL’s disregard for the safety of its players actually be causing the off-field problems too?

Throughout most of the the NFL’s history, the violence of the sport has only increased. Players are getting bigger, faster, and stronger every year so they can get the upper hand on their opposition. In the words of ESPN personality Dan Le Batard, “Football has gotten too big and too strong and too violent, and maybe the collateral damage can’t be controlled or governed.” When grown men that exceed the average human build are running at each other play after play, at high velocity which leads to high impact, this can only yield one thing: injury. It’s pretty easy to do the math and realize that if players subject themselves to this abuse for many years, they continue to hurt themselves every second they are on the field. The toll this can take on brains, spines, knees, and basically every other part of the body can be excruciating. Some players have even turned to drugs, or even to the extreme, suicide, to alleviate their pain.

Concern for player safety in contact sports at all levels is on the rise. The long term effects of concussions resulting from high impact sports injuries is of greatest concern. The most apparent long term effect I am talking about is a brain disease called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE for short.

While most fans care about their team winning games, players are getting hurt, and the NFL still makes boatloads of money. According to Sports Business Daily, the NFL surpassed $12 billion in revenue in 2015, which is roughly a $1 billion increase from the previous year. And as those $1 billion were spent of who knows what, the people who made this possible are dealing with or will have to deal with the life altering effects of their physical punishment. Of that new $12 billion dollars, $1 billion of it was given to more than 5,000 former players affected by CTE as a settlement for the players accusing the NFL of hiding information about the dangers of concussions from them (Belson). These former players or families of former player receive $5 million dollars or more depending on the severity of their injuries. We all have to ask ourselves: Is $5 million dollars the price tag put on the livelihood of these players?

The answer: It’s definitely a lot more than $5 million dollars.

The players want to win, and they also want to enjoy the game they play because their job is their passion. They wouldn’t have made it this far in their career if they didn’t have passion for the sport, and to see the discoveries about the disease being presented have come across as absolutely horrifying to some players.

CTE can be “debilitating and may have life changing effects for both the individual and for his family,” (Brain Research Institute). Some of the symptoms include loss of memory, difficulty controlling impulsive or erratic behavior, impaired judgment, behavioral disturbances including aggression and depression, difficulty with balance, and gradual onset dementia. The NFL is not helping the player understand the facts, and if anything they are trying to hide them.

Jovan Belcher, a former NFL linebacker played a position that dishes out punishment through vicious tackling proved to be fatal when Belcher was found to have CTE (Outside The Lines). Doctors found this information post-mortem. Belcher had committed suicide, and took his girlfriend’s life as well. When Belcher’s agent Joe Linta heard about the events, he said described Belcher’s actions as “Completely out of character for the guy I know. I didn’t have a lot of individual contact with him but this is so out of character for him. Completely out of character. He was charitable, polite, articulate — and something went crazy wrong,” (ESPN). “Completely out of character…” which can now be explained by the symptoms of CTE. If Belcher hadn’t been put through the wringer in his short life, and career from all the hits he had taken in games, would things be different? Of course. In relation to this incident, Dan Le Batard asks the question in his article Does Football Create Some Monsters? He also asks us if the suicides of “old warriors such as Junior Seau and Andre Waters and Dave Duerson,” who all formerly played in the NFL and asks if these occurrences are “causation, correlation or coincidence?” Le Batard is on to something here. He brings up a few examples of the suicides of former NFL players who were stars on the field in their prime. Like I said earlier: Loads of money, praise from millions, celebrity… what would lead a player to end that type of life? These suicides prove to be no coincidence, and instead, all signs point to the cause being CTE.

At the end of the day, of course you could say that the players made a choice to play in the NFL, but they just want to play the game they grew up loving to play. Current NFL player Chris Conte, a 26 year old stated in an interview in 2014 that he’d “rather have the experience of playing in the NFL and die 10 to 15 years earlier than not play in the NFL and have a long life,” (FTW — USA Today Sports). Some could take that path, and we have to respect their decision because it’s what the individual wants to do whether we think it’s right or wrong. Maybe Conte and others that share the same mindset will look back on his words and say “I was wrong” or maybe he’ll be completely unaffected. Hindsight is always 20/20.

If the NFL wants to project a sense of integrity to the United States and around the world, they need to take player safety and not make it one of their top priorities, but their lone priority. They need to look beyond the dollar and understand that the people being affected aren’t just their employees, but ambassadors of the sport and people all the same. There needs to be serious change in the way they do business. Until they do make changes, the number of injuries will continue to increase and the lives affected will extend far beyond just the players, including the players’ families, the teams, the league, the public, and the future of football itself.

Works Cited

Belson, Ken. “Judge Approves Deal in N.F.L. Concussion Suit.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 22 Apr. 2015. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.

Brain Research Institute. “What Is CTE?” What Is CTE? Brain Research Institute, n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.

Delsohn, Steve. “OTL: Belcher’s Brain Had CTE Signs.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, 30 Sept. 2014. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.

ESPM. ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, 2 Dec. 2012. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.

Jackson, Zac. “Randle El Regrets Playing Football, Says Game May disappear.” ProFootballTalk. NBC Sports, 19 Jan. 2016. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.

Kaplan, Daniel. “NFL Projecting Revenue Increase of $1B over 2014.” — SportsBusiness Daily. SportsBusiness Daily, 9 Mar. 2015. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.

Le Batard, Dan. “Does the NFL Create Some Monsters?” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, 21 Sept. 2014. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.

Schwartz, Nick. “Bears Safety Chris Conte Says He’d Rather ‘die 10 to 15 Years Earlier’ than Not Play in the NFL.” For The Win. USA Today Sports, 17 Dec. 2014. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.

Stites, Adam. “Richard Sherman Joins Chorus of NFL Players Who Hate ‘Thursday Night Football’” SB Nation, 21 Oct. 2015. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.

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