NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s Super Bowl Deception

"Well, I may not remember any of it, but the Commissioner says I'll life a long life..."

“Well, I may not remember any of it, but the Commissioner says I’ll live a long life…”

Today millions of Americans will gather around televisions, partying and cheering the spectacle of young men maiming and killing themselves for our entertainment pleasure during America’s most popular sporting event, the Super Bowl. An unknown but significant number of those athletes, we now know, are likely to be unable to recognize family members by the time they are 45, and several may take their own lives in despair.  Nonetheless, the official position of the National Football league is that all is well, and Commissioner Roger Goodell was touring the Sunday morning news shows to put out the propaganda claim that  pro football is good for everyone, even the players who accumulate concussions like the rest of us collect aggravation.

Presumably to appeal to the large proportion of the Super Bowl audience who know little about the sport, as well as the gullible fans who do, Goodell told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace (who, if he had the knowledge, wit and integrity,  should have stopped him and protested) in response to Wallace’s question about the NFL’s ongoing concussion scandal, that NFL players live longer and are on the whole healthier throughout their lives than the general population.

This is deception, and intentionally misleading.

Goodell is taking advantage of the fact that all the measures of the mortality of pro football players are flawed, which is why last year the NFL Players Union commissioned Harvard to do a 100 million dollar study of the health of ex-players and how to improve it.  The union claims that the average age of death of an ex-NFL player is 57 years, which would directly contradict Goodell’s claim.  This figure is supported by a 2011 study by the University of North Carolina, as well as insurance company actuarial statistics.

The figure, however, seems statistically unlikely.  Measuring the life expectancy of any group of adult men, even those engaged in risky behavior, will yield an average life expectancy that is better than the general population. Why? Because men in the general population die as infants, children, young adults, and before they would be old enough to play football. Thus the NFL and defenders of the brutal game continue to promote the 2012 study that found that NFL players outlive the general population. If accurate—and the players find the study difficult to believe, as do I—it can be argued that this study is also flawed. It compares apples—strong, affluent, college educated upper-middle class men—to oranges–everyone else, including the poor, unemployed, uneducated and poorly nourished. Attempting to get around this problem, one blogger compared the deaths of NFL players to other celebrities whose death notices were prominently published. His conclusion: there was no denying the fact that pro football players appeared to die sooner that non-football players from the same general class, but there was no justification to believethe mid-fifties mortality figure.

So do we know how much playing pro football lowers life expectancy, or even if it does? No….and neither does Roger Goodell. The studies are in conflict. However, we do know that a disproportionate number of the players who may live well into their golden years will do so unable to think clearly, remember their children’s names, or care for themselves, because they accepted big paychecks to allow their brains to be permanently bruised and catastrophically damaged. I don’t call that living or being healthy, and Goodell shouldn’t pretend that it is, or cite as fact what is a disputed contention at best.

Playing pro football isn’t good for you, and if the studies ultimately prove that ex-NFL players are really likely continue breathing as long as the rest of us despite their brain injuries, that just helps us understand why they have been killing themselves.


Sources: CP24,, Lotsa ‘Splaining, USA Today, Forbes

33 thoughts on “NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s Super Bowl Deception

        • So which one is it this year?

          The commercial that displays teens and young adults taking risks for fun and imploring them to be adventurous, yet with the fine print at the bottom of the screen that says “DO NOT DO THIS”?

          • Oh, they all were OK. I think the controversy over people singing “America the Beautiful” in foreign languages is beyond stupid, however. The more people in the world moved to sing ATB, whether it’s in Arabic, Mongolian or Esperanto, the better.

          • I hated the “Make Love Not War” commercial for Axe body spray. It was absolutely patronizing to suggest that everyone should just lay down their weapons and stop fighting, in the same way that stupid “Do they know it’s Christmas” song is patronizing. Sorry, but a hell of a lot of wars are fought for life-or-death reasons, compelling vital reasons, and the sentiment that all those war people would be happier if they just knocked it off and smelled like a frat house bothered the heck out of me.

  1. Hello, Jack,

    Here’s another case where I agree with you but see another side to it. This is about your assessment of NFL football in general, not just about the commissioner’s latest statement.

    Is the sport of car racing unethical? Despite remarkable safety technology, race drivers keep dying, and only for our entertainment.

    Is there a bright line between racing and football because racing honestly and diligently addresses safety issues? Or does advance knowledge of hazards aggravate guilt?

    Is it unethical to allow mountain climbing and skydiving, even though the participants consent freely? Football players are better off in one way — at least they get paid.

    Freely granted, dementia has a horror that death does not. Is that an ethical point, though, and not an Ick Factor? (Added during proofreading: yes, it is. Violent dementia endangers others.)

    Under what principle can our revulsion against profiting from crippling people override the freedom of adults to enter into risky contracts?

    Switching from ethics to fact, the insurance companies are the least biased source of data and the one with the most incentive to be right.

    • Which is why I cited the charts, but nobody can tell me why the insurance companies assume early death for players.

      I think the ethical issues for car racing are the same. If someone chooses to risk their life or serious injury in exchange for money and fame, they should have that choice, as long as they are willing to foot the expense. Obviously, everyone who contributes the money or to the fame that persuades the lineman or driver to make that deadly choice is complicit.

      “Is it unethical to allow mountain climbing and skydiving, even though the participants consent freely?”
      If the activity is so inherently life -threatening that the government bans it—say, as in professional Russian Roulette—that’s a reasonable exercise of government power. If it is an activity that is high-risk but safe if done properly, regulations are reasonable to maximize safety—like age restrictions. But it is an ethical choice to allow people to risk their lives for kicks and thrills.

  2. Jack,

    I’m tired on you insinuating that we only watch football for its violence.

    I for one really like seeing:
    Solid strategy versus unbreakable defense
    On the field innovation under pressure
    Timeless sportsmanship
    The nation forgetting our differences if only for a moment
    A team expending its energies on the field and never giving up
    And also seeing a dude hit so hard from behind he urinates blood and coughs up a few teeth

  3. Jack, my understanding is that ex-NFL players take their own lives at a lower rate than the general population, controlling for age cohort. I understand your thinking about the sport in general, and simply want to point out that ‘everybody-knows-that’: (fill in the blank), statements should be carefully considered. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s Super Bowl Sunday, and I must get back to my domestic abuse duties.

    • The rate of suicides looks like it is accelerating, however—its a small pool, and we don’t know yet how the increasing violence of more recent years will affect it. Also, football players may be killing themselves more often than comparable individuals in economic status and financial security.

      The bottom line is still that NFL play is dangerous, and is not making players healthier, which is what Goodell implied.

  4. These guys know that they are taking risks. Same as boxers, mixed martial arts fighters and even drag racers in the top fuel class. They do it for money, fame, great looking women, and adrenaline rush. So should we ban everything that carries significant risk. The soccer moms would love it but it would be a rather dull world. Try to tell professional soccer players they have a good chance of getting a concussion. They’d laugh their heads off.

      • Neither the bull nor the bear can give informed consent. Roman gladiators could not at the time do so, but football players play football because it is their choice to do so.

      • And, as mentioned earlier, this post is not about the ethics of playing football, but the ethics of lying to both fans and players about the safety of the game.

  5. It seems like the proper comparison study to determine NFL players life expectancy would be to compare them against men who lived to at least age 21, or something similar, who played Division 1 college football but did not play professionally. Then you can eliminate young deaths, lack of college education, and all those other factors- you’re pretty much narrowing it down to the effect of NFL play.

  6. My problem is that everybody is now arguing the ethics of the game, and all Jack said (besides that he hates the game for obvious and often-stated reasons) is that the Comish is lying through his teeth about it and THAT is certainly unethical.

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