Since the tragic suicide of former NFL great Junior Seau, much of the conversation in and around the NFL has been centered around the effects of repeated head trauma on NFL players and what possible role the effects from those hits may have played in Seau's death specifically and in the troubles of former players in general.
On the heels of these conversations have come plenty of whispers about the future of football itself, where the game is headed and if it can, indeed, survive going forward as the game we know and love today.
I have many thoughts on all of these subjects, but I wanted to take a moment on what I feel is a bit of an overreaction in relation to the future of football, especially in light of the growing numbers of former players adding their names to the multiple lawsuits that have been filed against the league over its handling of concussions.
This is, without question, a turning point for the National Football League. The league is currently living a bipolar existence—unquestioned success as the country's most popular sport and a near-constant headline machine spewing out constant reminders of that sport's barbaric nature, be it the alleged bounty program run by Gregg Williams while he was with the New Orleans Saints or the suicides of former players Andre Waters of the Philadelphia Eagles, Terry Long of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ray Easterling of the Atlanta Falcons and former Chicago Bears player Dave Duerson.
Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy found signs of damage and disease in Duerson's brain—as well as in the brains of 20 other former football players.
These horrific thoughts don't exactly mesh with the "Are you ready for some football!?" mentality we've all come to embrace every autumn weekend.
Against such a backdrop, I understand why people worry about where football is headed and how comfortable they might be watching and supporting a game that so callously tosses aside many of its former players. For me, I long ago made my peace with the fact that when I am watching football, I am embracing my inner-barbarian. These men play a near-blood sport for my enjoyment (and yes, are mostly well-compensated for doing so). Maybe that should bother me—but it doesn't.
Yes, the former players suing the league have a legit complaint, as this post from Chad Toporski makes clear.
Money quote via AllGreenBayPackers.com:
The NFL, after a wave of head injuries to star players like Troy Aikman and Steve Young, created the MTBIC to study the effects of concussions and to implement rules and guidelines to protect players from concussions. Then-Commissioner Paul Tagliabue appointed Dr. Elliot Pellman to lead the committee, while Drs. Ira Casson and David Viano also became prominent figures among the group.
The neurological community, meanwhile, was conducting similar studies, and they widely disagreed with the results of Dr. Pellman’s research.
Beginning in 2003, Pellman and his committee members published a long-running series on concussions in the scholarly journal Neurosurgery. Their sixth paper released by the journal in 2004 concluded that NFL players did not show a decline in brain function after suffering concussions and players with three or more concussions endured no ill effects. The printed reviews from peer scientists that followed were extremely harsh and considered the studies to be “flawed beyond belief.”
The history is a long and complicated one, but former players certainly seem to have a legit beef with how the NFL handled the information around concussions and their treatments. Be sure to read Chad's whole post.
Bringing us back to today, Roger Goodell and the current NFL brain trust has certainly done yeoman's work when it comes to studying and improving player safety—even if much of it is cosmetic. No fine, no suspension is going to stop a player from getting hit in the head in the game of football. Even the talk of eliminating kickoffs, if it should come to pass, will not stop helmets from hitting other helmets.
With all of this said, there will simply be players who choose, when presented with a myriad of facts (and some conjecture) that the game is simply not for them. There will be the Jacob Bell's of the world, who decide to leave the game for fear of their future.
As long as the players enter the arena with full knowledge of who has gone before them and what may lie ahead, I will enjoy the game of football. I think there are several others who feel the same way.
NFL football isn't going anywhere anytime soon.