These comments come a day after the death of legendary linebacker Junior Seau and the NFL’s suspension announcement for those players involved in the New Orleans Saints bounty program.
While it’s premature to suggest a link between Seau’s death and his football career, Warner’s comments highlight an issue that has come to the forefront of the NFL in recent years: player safety.
The NFL has made efforts to increase player safety with rule changes which include, penalizing players for hitting defenseless receivers and moving the kickoff to the 35 yard line.
However, the NFL does have other interests at stake as it changes rules and stiffly penalizes those involved in bounty programs. Public relations issues and money are two reasons for the NFL’s suddenly strong stance on player safety.
The NFL is a multi-billion dollar business, and like any corporation, public relations campaigns are a significant aspect of a successful, profitable business.
A Crucial Catch and NFL Play 60 are two examples of NFL public relations and marketing campaigns which serve to benefit society, but also the NFL.
A Crucial Catch promotes breast cancer awareness and encourages annual screenings. Every October NFL players wear uniforms, shoes, etc. that feature the color pink. Game-worn apparel is auctioned off, with proceeds going towards the American Cancer Society and other charities.
It’s a great cause and it doesn’t hurt that it reflects well on the NFL, not to mention the profit that can be made from merchandise. The NFL now sells just about all of its merchandise with a pink twist, which is just one of the ways the NFL is catering to its growing female fan base.
Isn’t it interesting that the NFL doesn’t promote the awareness of other life-threatening illnesses such as lung or prostate cancer?
NFL Play 60 is a campaign that promotes health and fitness for children, via 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Again, it’s for a good cause and therefore it reflects positively on the NFL, and the teams and players involved.
These marketing and public relations campaigns exist because they’re good for business.
With that being said, one has to think Roger Goodell and other NFL officials didn’t like to hear an employee, who happens to be a former NFL quarterback, state that he would rather his children didn't play football. What’s worse for the NFL is that Warner’s comments may be a reflection of the feelings of millions of parents across America.
It’s therefore in the NFL’s best interest to show the public that it is committed to player safety.
The suspensions that came as a result of the Saints bounty program are a perfect example of this. Suspending Jonathan Vilma for an entire season will get the public’s attention and show that the league has a zero-tolerance policy for those who attempt to injure opponents.
It’s the same for rule changes. It would reflect poorly on the league if it didn’t do anything to try to reduce the number of concussions.
The NFL’s stiff stance on player safety also comes at a time when hundreds of former NFL players are launching lawsuits against the NFL. These lawsuits are based on players' claims that they suffered head injuries during their careers which continue to affect them. These lawsuits could potentially cost the NFL millions of dollars.
For these reasons, it has become a necessity for the NFL to be strongly concerned with player safety. Some may debate whether Roger Goodell and the NFL are genuinely concerned with the health of their employees.
However, there is no debate over the NFL’s concern with making money and the public’s perception, as it relates to NFL profits.
Football has been played in a violent, physical fashion for decades and players have, and will continue to get hurt. The difference now is that research shows that head injuries can affect a player long after they’ve retired.
The NFL will therefore try to adapt, to make the game as safe as possible, so that children across America continue to play football and fans continue to buy into the NFL brand.
Don’t be surprised if kickoffs disappear and quarterbacks become even more protected by new rules in the near future.
This may be the beginning of a drastically different style of football in the NFL.