The National Football League is a revenue machine. It continues to be the strongest North American sport, raking in billions of dollars a year. Roger Goodell has been at the helm as commissioner since 2006. Even New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft recently praised the work of Goodell, “He’s worked hard. The health of the league has not been better.”
When cap goes up, that means NFL revenue is up. This year's "league total revenue" number jumped over $1 billion to $13.294 billion.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 3, 2016
Looking purely at the financial side of the equation, Goodell has done his job. Despite this success, the NFL has found itself in hot water more often than not in regards to its ethical and moral framework surrounding discipline, safety, and punishment. Every time sports fans tune into ESPN, it seems more often than not there is a new controversy surrounding professional football.
In 2005, Bennet Omalu published his first study on Chronic Tramatic Encephalopathy or CTE in the Neurosurgery academic journal. It would take until March 15, 2016 for Goodell, NFL owners to officially acknowledged the link between CTE and football.
Unfortunately for players like Junior Seau and Jovan Belcher it was eleven years too late. Seau was one of the greatest linebackers of his generation. He would go on to retire in 2009. Four years later, Seau shockingly died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his chest in Oceanside, CA. Belcher was a promising twenty five year old linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012. On December 1, 2012, he shot his girlfriend ten times. He then drove to the Chiefs practice facility immediately after and committed suicide in front of his head coach, general manager, and linebacker coach. Shortly before firing a bullet into his temple he said, “I need help. I wasn’t able to get enough help. I appreciate everything you all have done for me with trying to get help, but it wasn’t enough. I can’t go back now.”
— Anita Marshall (@814jazzyjazzy) February 22, 2016
Autopsies of Seau and Belcher would prove both players were suffering from CTE. They join the grim ranks of eighty seven professional football players who have had the disease confirmed through posthumous autopsies. An incredible eighty seven out of ninety one players autopsied have shown symptoms of CTE. An absolutely troubling and disturbing 79 percent.
Just two days ago, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was asked if there was enough research to link CTE to football, “No, that’s absurd. There’s no data that in any way creates a knowledge. There’s no way that you could have made a comment that there is an association and some type of assertion.” Jones should meet with the families of both Seau and Belcher and see what they have to say about his disbelief in a connection between the two. The eighty seven players already deceased roll over in their graves.
"No, that's absurd."
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is not convinced there is a link between CTE & football. https://t.co/rrsGna0T84
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 23, 2016
The NFL and owners like Jones continue to profit tremendously from the pain and suffering of the players in their league. What would happen to the owners and commissioner of any other business institution in the world if they were so ignorant to the health of their employees?
After the Seau findings, NFL official Greg Aiello stated, “The NFL, both directly and in partnership with the NIH, […] is committed to supporting a wide range of independent medical and scientific research that will both address CTE and promote the long-term health and safety of athletes at all levels.”
In the 2015 season, it is estimated that the NFL brought in over $13 billion in revenue. The NFL to this date has donated a relatively minuscule, incredibly low $30 million dollars to the National Institute of Health’s efforts to research CTE. Workplace safety in the NFL is nothing but smoke and mirrors. One would think a league and its owners that is facing such a tremendous health hazard for its players would do more in order to combat a scientifically proven traumatic brain disease.
The NFL being accused of pushing aside concussion, player safety concerns is nothing new. Proof of such an effort has never been more damning than today’s New York Times piece by Alan Schwarz, Walt Bogdanich, and Jacqueline Williams.
— NYT Sports (@NYTSports) March 24, 2016
Instead of making attempts to combat the risks of NFL football, the league has deliberately attempted to discourage and disparage the work of those investigating safety issues. A New York Times article published today noted that the league even went as far to hire a former lawyer in 1997 who defended Big Tobacco: Dorothy Mitchell. In 2003, the league formed a concussion committee in order to better understand the risks of concussions. The committee proclaimed that all current players were required to participate in the study. Despite this claim, teams were not required to participate in the study but were only strongly encouraged. A total of ten percent of concussions were found to be missing from the NFL databases according to the New York Times investigation. Incredibly enough an entire six seasons worth of head injuries associated with the Dallas Cowboys were found missing from the concussion database. Several additional teams other than the Cowboys also have no concussions listed for successive years. Dr. Elliot Pellman, New York Jets physician, led the NFL’s studies and was lead author on every paper regarding concussions. The NFL declined the New York Times request to interview Pellman. The study’s epidemiologist John Powell did not respond to the Times. The studies’ editor of Neurosurgery also did not respond.
While the NFL has long proclaimed its studies to be thorough and exhaustive, they have been concluding their stance on concussion safety upon incomplete data and analysis for several years. Despite the incomplete analysis, Dorothy Mitchell was applauded for her research work in five different research papers. The concussion committee lauded her efforts saying she worked “tirelessly to initiate” research and “her efforts paved the way for successful completion of the research.”
When asked about her work with the NFL, Mitchell said, “I don’t think I saw any reports […] it was in the early stages.” Mitchell also stated that she did not recall much about the committee’s work.
So what has the NFL done in 2016 in order to increase safety heading forward? Absolutely nothing. In-fact, they have actually managed to increase the danger of the special teams game.
— Boston Globe Sports (@BGlobeSports) March 22, 2016
One of the most high impact and hard hitting facets of football is kickoffs and returns. Players run down the field full speed at one another like patriot missiles launched from the deck of a navy destroyer. The league and owners saw the amount of touchbacks in recent seasons as simply boring. At this week’s owners meetings in Boca, a new kickoff rule was instituted in order to increase the amount of returned kicks. Special teams coaches will look for new ways to limit return yards by kicking high or squibbing the ball down the field. These new styles of kickoff play will give players more time to fly downfield and deliver more punishing blows to one another.
As Christopher Gasper of the Boston Globe emphatically stated today, “It’s a player safety fail.”
Kraft stated this week, “The health of the league has not been better.” The players that suit up on NFL teams for years, retiring with crippled bodies and traumatic brain injury inflicted upon them can only shake their head at such a statement. Some might say that players earn millions and they completely understand the risks of the game. However, these players earn only pocket change compared to those who run the league and its teams. With recent investigation, it is clear that these same NFL owners and officials have not come anywhere close to executing due diligence in their investigations into player safety. They have even gone as far as to hire former defenders of big tobacco in order to “investigate” concussions in the NFL.
The NFL must start at the top when it comes to changing the culture of the league. Roger Goodell needs to be replaced. Whatever he touches (other than the pocket book of the league and owners) becomes a train-wreck. A new commissioner of the NFL must be hired in order to change the moral and ethical culture of professional football before there are any more victims of it’s own ignorance toward players and their safety. Give these players the help they need that Jovan Belcher was unable to reach before it was too late.