Head Cases: The NFL's Anti-Concussion Super Bowl Ad

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Head Cases: The NFL's Anti-Concussion Super Bowl Ad
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Wedged somewhere between a commercial peddling light beer and one where a horse kicks a man in the crotch will be the NFL’s latest attempt at ensuring America it is doing all it can, when it comes to concussions.

Tuesday, the New York Times released information from the NFL that the league will be using some of its airtime to show a sixty-second promulgation that details the history of the game and the various rule changes that have occurred.

The NFL apparently spent a couple million dollars on this, and even hired former Friday Night Lights director Peter Berg, to play the role of Leni Riefenstahl, in hopes that flashiness and beautiful cinematography will deter the viewer from figuring out what is actually happening.

The commercial sounds like the focus is on showing every morally wrong thing the NFL has ever allowed (like the leather helmet and horse collar tackles), and then stating how brilliant the NFL was to end it.

It shouldn’t have to be proclaimed to the world that the NFL did the right thing, because when you do the right thing, it doesn’t need to be restated. Nobody brags that we no longer burn “witches” or lobotomize people; it’s things that never should have happened to begin with.

By showing everything wrong in beautiful Technicolor, and what the NFL masthead did to change it, they are making the viewer believe that this is the trodden path. Everything gets fixed and everything will be OK. This commercial is for the uneasy mother who’s read the story of Dave Duerson or frequents The Concussion Blog.

You see, the NFL has found itself mired in legal trouble lately, as former NFL players have sued their former employers for concealing information about concussions and head injuries—in kind of the same way the tobacco industry did for decades.

Even recent players like Jamal Lewis are coming back from the grave to haunt the league and rattle their ghostly chains.

What better way to hopefully get public opinion on their side than to create a commercial that a majority of America will see, and potentially talk about? It’s being done to get people to think the NFL is doing more to stop concussions, and that they actually care about their employees.

Keep in mind that it took the iron foot of Congress to even get the cob-webbed wheels churning in this debate inside the league, and that without the pressure from our national government the NFL would still have dementia-esque trouble linking dementia to concussions and head injuries.

Recently, the NFL has attempted to step up its concussion policy in the form of various reforms, but all of them (like reviewing injuries with video monitors and having the referees play doctor) are avoiding the problem at hand, and this commercial is more of the same.

Listen to what Michael Hausfield, a lawyer who representing a few of the former NFL players involved in the lawsuits, had to say:

“I’m troubled by it to the extent that it seeks to portray a position of concern when they really had none. They shouldn’t be focused on placing ads. They should be focused on talking to those players who have suffered the concussions and the consequences. And saying, ‘What is it we can do? To a lot of people, the ad will resonate that they’re trying. On the other hand, there’s a little bit too much protesting. You’re trying to put yourself in too good of a light. Why? You’re trying to deflect your exposure.”

And he’s right. By creating a commercial that states that the NFL is just "Darwinism" in action, they are avoiding the real problem at hand.

The NFL may be trying, but it doesn’t appear to be doing so willingly. They can pull out all the stats they want about how players miss more time due to head injuries than ever before, but it doesn’t matter when players like Kris Dielman are suffering unreported concussion-related seizures on airplanes, when teams are referring to obvious concussions as “concussion-like symptoms” and when Colt McCoy is staying in a game while his brain is bleeding profusely.

Think about all that when you watch the NFL’s propaganda on Sunday. Remember why this commercial is being made in the first place, and why it is nothing more than a faulty and misguided attempt to hopefully obscure what is really going on.

At the end, Ray Lewis will emerge and proclaim: “Here’s to making the next century safer and more exciting. Forever forward. Forever football.”

Set aside the fact that the NFL has no current plan to make the game simultaneously more exciting and safe, because it isn’t possible, and concentrate on that last part. “forever”.

Football as we currently know it will not exist in a decade, as pressure to make the game safer increases. This commercial refuses to acknowledge what will happen, and instead pretends to live in a phony vibrant world where only minor changes are made. The concussion issue is going to require much more reform than getting rid of the flying wedge did.

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