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.
Look the answer is obvious. Replace the men with women, the force of the collisions will be dramatically reduced and women will be on a better career path having engaged in combat.
Good points. The irony is that the “safer” helmets encourage more helmet-to-helmet contact while they cannot keep the brain from rattling around in its pan.
Millions of American males have played at least some level of
organized tackle football. A relative few live their lives with some
pain, usually involving the ankle, knee, or shoulder. Even fewer
players end up with permanent brain damage.
This whole debate reminds me of the airplane crash issue. When
we have a series of airliner crashes some people get their panties
in a twist. They ignore the fact that many thousands of planes
have taken off and landed without incident.
There is an ongoing battle to take away ALL forms of risk
in this country and I, for one, think it is pretty dumb.
People didn’t stop liking boxing (as much it’s not exactly “dead” just no longer a major sport in the US. Mexico and the UK seem to like it a little better) cause of it’s violent nature.
America LOVES violence. Football is huge $$$$$$$ bizness it’s not going anywhere anytime soon despite all the “oh woe is me this is bad but I love football” commentary from the media. Sports media people are like, having fights within their own minds over this. It’s hilarious.
I for one didn’t need recent medical evidence and sensationization to tell me that getting multiple blows to the head was BAD FOR YOU. In boxing that’s called being punch drunk and it’s been common knowledge for decades. It’s somewhat dangerous to play football, people do it by choice, that should be the end of it.
Make better helmets, safer tackling is possible maybe, they aren’t letting concussed people get back on the field until a doctor clears them, that’s good.
Wussy losers will try to water down the heart of the game though by doing things like eliminating the kickoff. If they do that...
Sarcastaball. We may as well drink each others.......
It’s really pure physics.
The NFL players are by far the top level in speed and size, so they’re going to have the highest g-force collisions.
Unfortunately while their muscles are the biggest, their brain tissue is just as impact sensitive as anybody else.
MMA is less violent actually due to the ability of the fighter to "tap out" without shame. All a fighter does is grapple and turn his back in order for a rear choke.
Or putting the strong arm on hapless taxpayers to build their team a new state of the art stadium. Good example, Mike Brown of the Cincinnati Bengals ... the old stadium barely 25 years old was demolished.
I quit watching football when they created the Red Zone. Their percentages, in the red zone, how many points, in the red zone, how many plays, in the red zone, against this team or that team, during the season, last season, the last two seasons, NUTS! I turned them off. No more.
The reason Pro football is going away is because the player farms under the NFL are going away. First middle school and High School football will disappear since school districts can’t absorb the coming lawsuits. Without high schools where will college recruit? Due to the larger amounts of money involved colleges will last a few years more than high school programs and the pros will be the last to go simply because of the vast resources of the NFL. Given enough time lawyers will eventually ruin EVERYTHING!
You are correct. Your user name obviously indicates that you
are a follower of auto racing which is another high risk enter
prise. The thing we realize is the more and the longer people
engage in high risk activities the better the chance of harmful
incidents occurring. There is an element of our society that
seems to thrive on attempting to eliminate all posibility of
risk. To me that is absurd.
And yet we have over half a million America dead because of AIDS, primarily due to consensual but immoral practice, which “helmets” alone will not prevent.
To my mind, the full embrace of the homosexual agenda by the NFL has speeded its demise.
oh I hadn’t realized the NFL did that
soccor is a really stupid game, most of these games are for numbskulls
They can win it. First thing to do is start writing checks, settle all those cases out of court, they’ve got the cash. Next thing to do is stop screwing around with veteran players and their healthcare, no more trying to write off problems as non-football, again just start writing checks (the NFL has ridiculously deep pockets), cover everything, cover the flu. Once they do that the problem, at least the PR portion, will be gone.
Boxing didn’t die because of brain injuries, boxing died because the sport is insanely corrupt, there’s too many “world governing bodies” handing out belts, and not enough bouts. If there were no more than 2 “champions” at every weight class, and those champs had to fight twice a year, and the results seemed genuine boxing would be back. That’s how the MMA grew.
I quit watching when the Colts left Baltimore. I don’t think I’ve missed much since then...
Joint injuries don’t lead to the imagery of hall of famers babbling nonsense and living under bridges though. That’s powerful depressing stuff.
yeah it is for sure my kid had to box a kid who was supposedly 14 but had a 5 o clock shadow.
so now it’s all about who can garner the most sympathy through jealousy and resentment?
Plaintiffs always go for the deep pockets. That’s not the officials, but the owners and the league itself.
Typical ignorant Town Hall article.
Players cannot sue the league, nor the owners, since they have signed the notice of hazards when they joined.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
How many people are there with you under your bridge right now?
Succer isn’t a sport; it’s training to accept unjust authority, and align with gangs.
>> “There is an ongoing battle to take away ALL forms of risk
in this country and I, for one, think it is pretty dumb.” <<
But it makes for great Democrat talking points.
>> “San Francisco is probably still paying for Candlestick Park” <<
Chuck Harney bore most of the cost of Candlestick, and naming it for the bird, rather than the philanthropist that built it was a crude insult.
Back to the Bridge game at the lyebeary, huh?
We got the speech from the doctor during a sports physical checkup.
Instead of providing liability limits, to preserve the game, if the legislators had any common sense and compassion, they would outlaw playing it, due to the serious risks. And I mean outlaw, PERIOD, not just outlaw it at the professional or paid level.
Nope, I have been out chopping wood today. It was a little cold to be shooting at targets, which I ofttimes do.
Nor I would be caught dead at a bridge game; the OP is definitely not a social animal. This excuse for parties we call the Super Bowl—the game is incidental, it appears—is for others, not me.
First, the officials' business entity has insurance - and that pocket will be deep.
Second, it will take a lawsuit and discovery against the officials to generate enough evidence against the NFL to pierce the assumption of risk defense that the NFL enjoys.