The induction of former San Diego Chargers linebacker, Junior Seau, into the NFL Hall of Fame raises a number of questions. Not about his qualifications for the honor. He is most certainly deserving. It raises questions about NFL team ownership; about the league’s Commissioner; about concussion protocol; about the equipment; about the game’s rules; about the sport itself.
More than a dozen former NFL players committed suicide after suffering memory loss and other effects of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) which is caused by concussions. And numerous other former players have been diagnosed with CTE. Yet for many years, the NFL has seemed to ignore the problems of concussions despite individual and class action lawsuits for unsafe working conditions. Most recently, the league settled a class action lawsuit out of court for $765 million. The settlement allowed league officials to avoid testifying under oath on what the NFL knew and when it knew it.
Likely that would have been extremely embarrassing.
Over the past 3 seasons alone, there have been nearly 700 reported concussions. And that’s just the concussions that were actually reported. How many aren’t? And how many are reported too late to protect the health of the players? There were several embarrassing incidents (including one during the Super Bowl) in which players wobbled off the field following vicious hits only to re-enter the game a few plays later. Then the next day or, in some cases, a few days later, the player was diagnosed with concussion symptoms.
Obviously, it was more important for the team to win the game than to protect the health of its players.
While it is true that the number of reported concussions has dropped each of the past 2 years, the number is still far too great. Indeed, if most any other industry experienced such injuries and unsafe working conditions, the media and the public would be calling for investigations.
Almost certainly, rule changes and improved equipment could reduce the concussions and other serious injuries. But there seems to be no real appetite for change. After all, this is football – America’s beloved bloodsport. It makes the owners, and especially the media, billions of dollars each year. Unfortunately, most of those who play the game and take the chances of permanently harming their health labor for much, much less money. Moreover, unlike other sports, their contracts are not guaranteed. So even if they are lucky enough to sign a multi-million dollar contract, most of that money could disappear in an instant; the result of a single violent play. Football fans will cheer and marvel at the play. It will be replayed in an almost continuous loop on ESPN and other networks. And the player who suffered the damage will be quickly forgotten.
For most players, they will experience one violent collision after another, some of which will cause concussions. And if the concussions happen often enough or if they are severe enough, the players will be forced to retire. Some will lose their memories and some of their motor functions. And some will do what Junior Seau did. They will kill themselves.
It’s time for change…real change.