Less than a week after Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones called linking football with neurodegenerative diseases "absurd," per SportsBusiness Journal's Daniel Kaplan, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay opened himself up for criticism while discussing the growing concern regarding player safety in the NFL.
Irsay granted an interview to SportsBusiness Journal at the league's annual owners' meetings and discussed the issue of concussions:
Look at it: When you get into Olympic bobsledding—I could sit down and name a dozen different sports—it has always been a known factor that you know you are going in there and you are taking a risk.
I believe this: that the game has always been a risk, you know, and the way certain people are. Look at it. You take an aspirin, I take an aspirin, it might give you extreme side effects of illness and your body … may reject it, where I would be fine. So there is so much we don’t know.
For one, critics could contend former players didn't truly know the risks they were taking during their playing careers. The NFL downplayed the issue for years, and a report in the New York Times by Alan Schwarz, Walt Bogdanich and Jacqueline Williams detailed numerous flaws in the league's internal research into concussions.
Irsay's comparison between taking aspirin and playing football is also a case of false equivalence, as Deadspin's Tom Ley explained:
This is an interesting analogy, if just because we here see an owner portraying football as he'd like it to be seen: as something beneficial which may, in certain rare cases, cause harm. One could pick a different, more accurate analogy, of course—"Look at it. You bash your head into a wall as hard as you can every day, I bash my head into a wall every day ..."—but go too far that way and you might have difficulty convincing anyone that football is, as is, pretty much just fine.
NFL Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe responded to Irsay's comments, criticizing the owner for his stance:
(1) Nfl owners J. Jones/Irsay sound like cigarette execs that tried to minimize the dangers of smoking. Smoking doesn't guarantee cancer,— shannon sharpe (@ShannonSharpe) March 28, 2016
(2) Heart related disease, but it increases your risk. Playing FB doesn't guarantee CTE/neurological disease, but it increase your risk— shannon sharpe (@ShannonSharpe) March 28, 2016
NFL and its owners need to stop playing these semantics/gms and let's try and make this gr8 gm as safe as possible.— shannon sharpe (@ShannonSharpe) March 28, 2016
Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy responded to Irsay's comments on Instagram:
The scrutiny the NFL is under continues to grow in relation to player safety, especially after the league announced in January that concussions rose in 2015 compared to the previous season, per ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert.
Jeff Miller, the NFL's senior vice president of health and safety, publicly admitted to a connection between playing football and diseases such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) on March 15, per ESPN.com's Steve Fainaru. It was the first such admission by a league employee.
Fainaru also reported four members of Congress are looking into why the NFL backed out of a National Institutes of Health-sponsored study by Boston University, which focused on football and the possible causes of CTE.