Dangerous Side of Football
This past Sunday, the 50th Super Bowl commenced, with the Denver Broncos facing the Carolina Panthers. The Super Bowl has long been one of America’s most popular cultural events. Outside of the implications of the game itself, which determines the champion of the National Football league, the game’s halftime show is widely considered to be an enormous musical spectacle, with some of the world’s most popular musicians having performed. Even the commercials that air during the Super Bowl are highly lucrative, with companies shedding hundreds of millions of dollars simply for the chance to be featured in minute-long slots. Overall, the Super Bowl is one of the most financially and culturally relevant events of the year, and has contributed greatly to the popularity of the game of football. Unfortunately, one ongoing issue seems to threaten football’s established reputation. This issue is the increasing evidence that playing football long-term may have lasting negative effects on players’ health, often resulting from repeated concussions and other injuries sustained while playing. This problem has been linked to long-term health issues for former players, and has become a major cause for concern among the sports community.
On a technical level, football is by the far the most contact-oriented of the four major sports in America. Players will not only try to score touchdowns, but will unleash vicious hits on opposing players while trying to tackle their foes. Even without considering concussions, playing in the NFL carries much more of an injury risk than in the other major American sports leagues. In fact, recently, when the league considered adding an additional two games per team to NFL teams’ schedules, many players opposed doing so, on the basis of the extra two games making it much more likely for players to sustain long-term injuries. Additionally, many players selected to play in the Pro Bowl, the NFL’s annual all-star game, choose to skip the game, simply because they feel it is not worth risking an injury just to play in an exhibition. Even the NFL’s preseason, which is essentially a brief series of exhibition games intended to help prepare teams for the upcoming season, can often result in serious injuries that cause players to miss significant portions of the regular season.
While players have long suspected that football impacted their health negatively, new research has confirmed these theories. In 2012, former linebacker Junior Seau, a legendary player for the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins, and New England Patriots, committed suicide, leading many to speculate that his long career in tackle football had negatively impacted his mental health. In fact, in 2013, Seau’s family members announced that Seau’s brain, which had been submitted to the National Institute of Health, had indeed tested positive for CTE, a disease associated with repeated head trauma which can lead to dementia, memory loss, and depression. Another recently deceased former football player, Oakland Raiders legend Ken Stabler, was found to have symptoms of CTE in his brain as well. Stabler and Seau are two of many former NFL players to have been associated with long-term brain injuries as a result of playing in the NFL. Former Pittsburgh Steeler Antwaan Randle El stated last month that “If I could go back, I wouldn’t” [play football as a career], because of the effects stemming from the injuries he sustained from his career. According to Randle El, “The kids are getting bigger and faster, so the concussions, the severe spinal cord injuries, are only going to get worse. It’s a tough pill to swallow because I love the game of football. But I tell parents, ‘You can have the right helmet, the perfect pads on, and still end up with a paraplegic kid.’”
All of this evidence points to one conclusion: The NFL needs to take every possible effort to ensure that player safety is prioritized above all else. While football is certainly a staple in American sports and culture, and changing anything about how the game is played would likely take a severe toll on revenues, the safety of the players involved is paramount. This issue needs to be dealt with by the league’s leadership directly, and internal investigations must be made. Part of the NFL’s responsibility as a sports league is to protect the safety and welfare of its players, who are ultimately the ones driving football’s popularity and lucrative revenue. If NFL players are partaking in a dangerous occupation, then the league has a responsibility to be the driving force in making football safer for them. And, if the NFL refuses to take this issue seriously, then it has forsaken its responsibility to keep its players healthy and safe, which is the responsibility any employer has to its personnel. The financial and cultural significance of the NFL is simply not as important as the health and safety of the people involved in its activities.
The overwhelming evidence that football is dangerous and can present long-term health risks cannot be overlooked by anyone, including the NFL. The league needs to take steps to investigate the extent to which football can negatively affect players’ long-term health, so that changes can make football safer for its participants. If the current state of football is deemed too dangerous for players to participate, then major changes must be made to how football is played on a technical level, so that players will no longer be at risk. Until football becomes a safer sport, it will pose a tremendous risk to the health and safety of football players, and will cause them ill effects for years after they retire.