Skip to comments.A Game the NFL Can't Win
Posted on 02/03/2013 6:56:31 AM PST by Kaslin
Professional football is the most popular spectator sport in America, which is one reason the Super Bowl is expected to draw 110 million viewers. With its famous athletes, storied franchises and lucrative TV contracts, it's an industry whose future appears limitless.
But football has a problem: the specter of mass brain damage among current and former players. So far, the steady trickle of disturbing revelations has had no apparent effect on ticket sales or TV ratings. What it has done, though, is more ominous: It has invited lawsuits.
If football falls into decline, it may not be the result of fans turning away, athletes avoiding it or parents forbidding it. It may be from lawyers representing players who sustained chronic traumatic encephalopathy and expect to be compensated for the damage.
Already, more than 4,000 former players are suing the NFL, claiming it failed to warn them of the hazards. The family of San Diego Chargers great Junior Seau, whose autopsy revealed CTE after his suicide last year, has filed a wrongful death suit against the league. The Seaus are also accusing Riddell Inc. of making unsafe helmets.
Walter Olson, a Cato Institute fellow, blogger (Overlawyered.com) and author of several books on liability, knows well how a tide of litigation can transform a landscape. And he has a bold prediction: "If we were to apply the same legal principles to football as we do to other industries, it would have to become extremely different, if not go out of business."
"Seriously?" you may ask. A guy who made a good living engaging in high-speed collisions with 300-lb. blocks of granite can say he didn't understand the risks involved? It may seem that case will be laughed out of court.
But Olson thinks not. "Courts have not been very friendly to this argument, particularly when something as grave as permanent brain damage is involved," he told me. And it's become apparent that while players were aware of the possibility of mangled knees, broken bones and concussions, they didn't grasp that repeated blows to the head could produce debilitating and irreversible mental harms.
Exposure to asbestos was long known to be unhealthy, but that didn't stop sick workers from succeeding in court. More than 730,000 people have sued some 8,000 companies, and dozens of firms connected to asbestos in some way have been driven into bankruptcy.
The NFL has a weak hand in other ways as well. Professional football players, notes Olson, make particularly appealing litigants, since they tend to be well-known and widely liked. Their cases will get a lot of sympathetic publicity.
These athletes are handsomely paid, which means that brain trauma may deprive them of years of high earnings while requiring them to get expensive care for decades -- all of which the league and other parties (stadium owners, equipments makers and so on) may be forced to pay for.
On the other side are owners, many of whom are resented for charging high prices, fielding losing teams year after year or simply being insufferable. (Jerry Jones, I'm looking at you.)
Next in the line of fire are the soulless corporations that make or sell helmets, facemasks and other gear that failed to prevent these injuries -- and may even have contributed to them. Doctors and trainers who cleared players to return to action after a fog-inducing tackle will get close scrutiny to determine whether they put the team's needs above the patient's.
The NFL and other defendants can argue that they too were surprised to find out how much brain damage can result from the game and therefore should not be blamed for it. But as Olson notes, the game is still being played in pretty much the same way as it was before. Lawyers for the plaintiffs, he says, can ask: "How much difference would that knowledge have made if you're still letting this happen?"
It's always possible, of course, for lawmakers to pass legislation exempting organized football from the usual liability standards. But if one state or 10 states do so, attorneys can find excuses to file the lawsuits in states that don't -- since the NFL is an interstate business.
A federal law might take the issue out of state courts. But how many senators will want to vote to deprive ravaged gridiron legends of their day in court?
The NFL has a lot of experience with blitzes. But it's never seen anything like the one that's coming.
it is as dead as boxing just a matter of time
FWIW for all you Soccer Moms out there, heading a ball is a direct trauma to your little tot’s brain. In Football your kid wears a protective helmet and direct head trauma is not a rule of the game. In soccer you are required to use your little noggin to advance the ball.
It’s interesting that this brain injury stuff is getting so much press when the reality is that joint injuries (knee, hip, elbows and shoulders) and the lifelong pain that accompanies them is a much greater problem for retired NFL players.
I certainly will not miss it.
My son plays high school football. Before I gave my blessing for him to go out for the team, I asked my neurologist about head injuries/broken necks/ etc.. He told me he seldom sees football players but he has a lot of soccer players. Soccer’s head injuries are being ignored because the world likes soccer. We have to become like the world, don’t you know!
Boxing was superseded by the even more violent MMA, will the NFL be superseded by Rollerball?
Actually I think the brain damage that NFL Players seem to develop is not related to their time on the gridiron, but due to the fact that most of them attended academic courses at public Universities.
Had they gone to the NFL directly from high school then I think their brains could have been spared some of that traumatic brain washing.
Just eliminate black players under 250 pounds. The rest are not as fast or good.
And it’s become apparent that while players were aware of the possibility of mangled knees, broken bones and concussions, they didn’t grasp that repeated blows to the head could produce debilitating and irreversible mental harms
Yeah Football will soon be gone.
In rugby, where the players don't wear helmets, the players don't hit with their heads, because they don't want to crack their own skulls open (duuuh), and they didn't in American football either back when the helmets were made out of leather.
Additionally, I believe that the excessive abuse of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs that we all know takes place in the game today is likely a major factor as well. The players may want to think very carefully about just far down this road they really want to go.
The forces involved with ‘heading’ a soccer ball and running headlong into a tackle at full speed are not even comparable.
For me, NFL simply means No Flippin’ Liberals.
A union organization does not deserve my time or money.
Yet MMF grows exponentially
"Spearing" is a penalty that can be called on both offense and defense, but is rarely called.
I called a running back for spearing in a HS game and was damn near tarred and feathered. Told the head coach to read the rule and then come back and apologize.
Head of our association tells me in the next meeting that I was right according to the letter of the rule, but that call was not one that should be made.
I pointed out to him that the first time there is a catastrophic injury to a defensive player receiving such a hit from a running back or the running back that delivers one there will be an attorney looking for a big payday...and did he want to be on record with an official policy of looking the other way?
Watch today's game and next years' games and watch the running backs...they all lower their head just before contact with the defender.
That's just one example.
The rules are there to create as safe a game as possible, but they are not being enforced....which will create the liability for the officials first and then the league after the fingers start pointing back saying they were following instructions...
“Yeah Football will soon be gone.”
For starters, the part I want to see gone is the looting of all the taxpayers through municipal bond issues to pay for stadiums for these millionaire freaks to play in! If this is such a good “business,” why do the owners come hat in hand to the government to pay for their venues? San Francisco is probably still paying for Candlestick Park while the “voters” of Santa Clara have just gone into hock for a new stadium for the 49er’s. Nothing the teams get from the taxpayers is ever paid off before “it’s inadequate” or there’s a better deal to be had in another city. You don’t see NASCAR asking some city to build them a racetrack, and I’ll bet you that the fan base in motorsports is as big, if not bigger than “professional” football!
Good for you, ref! Neck injury and back injury. I don’t know why you got such flack. This technique is a penalty, plain and simply.
Pooh... I meant to say neck and HEAD injury. My bad...
MMA may seem more violent but it’s probably not.
Boxing is nothing but punching and with heavy gloves so you can punch harder wo hurting your hands. And a guy can go down repeatedly and get up for more punishment. Guys have gotten up from shots that may have resulted in an immediate stoppage in MMA.
Probably more brain damage from boxing.