The NFL Is Pretty Close To Evil. Do Their Fans Care? Sponsors? Hello?

I read an ESPN piece a couple of days ago—I lost the link—evaluating the factors that have led to the large (and expensive ) drop in the NFL’s television ratings.. It wasn’t just the gratuitous, half-baked protests during the National Anthem, the author explained. No, it was also injuries, too many mid-week games, too many bad games, viewers “cutting the cord” and leaving cable, and other factors.

Oddly, the fact that it is increasingly clear that the NFL makes its money by maiming and killing young men never made it onto  the list. Maybe that’s right; maybe football fans don’t care that the heroes they cheer today will be drooling, tortured, burdens on their families in their 50s and 60s, if not sooner. Hey, they get good money to have their brains pureed, right?

If this is true, then my headline is  incomplete. The NFL and its fans are pretty close to evil.

A recent scandal showed us just how cynical the league’s claims that it was addressing its concussion and CTE problems.

Tom Savage, the Houston Texans quarterback, took a violent  hit from Elvis Dumervil of the 49ers ia a December 10 game. Savage rolled onto his back and lifted up his hands, which could be seen trembling, as if he were being electrocuted, a textbook indication of a likely concussion. He went to the sidelines but re-entered the game for the next series. He then left the game again and has not played since.

Some protocols on concussions the NFL has! Remember, this occurred after the news about CTE, the crippling brain disease  afflicting 99% of football players p whose brains have been examined, has gotten progressively more frightening.  The NFL initially denied the problem, stonewalled, and now is apparently faking concern.

The NFL announced it will not discipline the Texans for their negligent handing of  Savage’s head injury. That’s odd, don’t you think, if this is something the league cares about? If a team will send a player back out onto the field after he shows those symptoms, what other players with less visible signs of concussions have been sent back out to get disabled? My guess is countless players, and in every game.

Hey, they get good money to have their brains pureed, right?

The union is complicit in this too. “The parties have both concluded that while the medical staff followed the protocol, the outcome was unacceptable and therefore further improvements in the protocol are necessary,” players’ association said in a joint statement statement with management.

The statement also said that the slow-motion video of Savage, which tipped off viewers that Savage had been badly hurt, “was not broadcast until after the doctors had begun the sideline evaluation and thus was not seen by the medical staff prior to the evaluation.” Ah! TV viewers say that Savage was head-damaged, but the experts on the field missed it somehow,

They wanted to miss it. The NFL wants this whole issue to go away, like the IQ points of its veterans after one too many hits.

Now that their protocols have been exposed as a joke, the NFL says a new system will be put in place. An independent consultant at the league office will watching game feeds. That consultant “will contact the team medical staff on the sideline should they observe any signs or symptoms warranting further evaluation.” Translation: An NFL employee will alert teams that the audience at home could see that a player had been injured, so they better play it straight.

The league says it will also formally list “fencing responses,” such as trembling exhibited  Savage, as a sign of potential concussion. Players who display it “shall be removed from play and may not return to the game.” Players stumbling or falling to the ground when trying to stand after contact will also be evaluated.

Do you see the obvious problem with this? The cause of CTE is the concussions themselves. Once a player’s hands are trembling, or he is falling over, the damage is done. Keeping NFL players from brain damage requires that the game not subject them to serious concussions on a regular basis, and pro football has no intention of doing that.

The NFL is willing to keep crippling its players for profit, because a majority of fans don’t care if they are crippled, and will buy products and spend money to keep crippling them.

I’ll end by quoting what I wrote on this topic in 2014. After all, nothing has really changed:

Congress and regulators don’t have the guts to make football acceptably safe, and the NFL is happy to keep destroying its players brains as long as it is obscenely profitable to do so. Rush Limbaugh and other conservative commentators, meanwhile, use their considerable influence to mock and block any efforts to acknowledge that what is happening on gridirons is a serious problem, calling criticism and calls for reform part of a feminist-driven, progressive war on football. Because it’s a guy thing, you know.

Football fans like watching athletes get hit, hard, including in the head. We now know, as we once did not, that helmets don’t protect the brain enough, and may even make some injuries worse. Taking away head trauma changes football into something else, something that won’t make nearly as much money for owners, beer sellers, fantasy football entrepreneurs, TV executives, sponsors and merchandisers. Changing football at the college level won’t be permitted by the fat-cat alums who live vicariously though their alma mater’s touchdowns, lord knows why. Maybe if mothers stand up to Homer Simpson dads and refuse to allow their sons—and maybe daughters—to be fed into football’s maw, channeling them instead into some of the many sports that don’t leave its competitors drooling at 45, there won’t be enough players to keep the game cruising profitably.

I doubt it.

18 thoughts on “The NFL Is Pretty Close To Evil. Do Their Fans Care? Sponsors? Hello?

    • Of course, that’s a huge part of the problem; that testosterone-potentiated feeling of invincibility, coupled with that nearly universal assumption that “it won’t happen to me”. So sad. An enormous number of players are going to have to be permanently brain-damaged before it can no longer be ignored.

  1. About four years ago I watched a documentary about football players and CTE – the dementia, the suicides, etc. Shortly thereafter I watched the (not so great) Will Smith movie on this subject, wherein he played the Nigerian immigrant medical examiner who identified and named the syndrome.

    The difference between football and baseball attitudes on concussion is significant. But football is a contact sport and baseball (usually) is not: who should be more concerned about concussion? Baseball is way ahead.

    Politics aside, football is on the way down. Witness the NFL draftees who do not take on contracts, preferring instead a longer, healthy life to a short-term, highly-remunerative career that may well end in tragedy.

    The only way for football to meet its deserved demise will be through the parents: who can keep their kids out of football from their young days through high school and then college. This would collapse the pipeline for NFL players. And if they choose the health of their youngsters over the short-term, high-salary career that they know might destroy them, we have a chance.

    The NFL is an incredibly powerful institution: it will difficult for those informed on CTE to counter the NFL’s public relations campaign. But they must: parents have a great deal of control over their kids’ activities, at least through high school, and if they are not proactive about their childrens’ lives – as opposed to rationalizing greed and buying into the NFL’s disinformation campaign — we’ll have tragedy after tragedy after tragedy.

    As luck would have it, my son played Little League – from tee-ball through the “majors” until he aged out of the program, but he loved every minute of it. He hasn’t has had one quick minute of interest in football – a decision made well before CTE became known – because he thought baseball was a far more complex and interesting game. Smart kid. And at least my husband and I didn’t have to make a hard decision, before the dangers of football were known. Today’s parents have the data: it is up to them to safeguard their children from a highly dangerous and potentially deathly career.

    Guess we need another Spartacus…

  2. Take away the plastic helmets and face masks. Turn football back into rugby. Noses will get broken and teeth will be knocked out but maybe people won’t be concussed on every single play.

    And what about youth and high school and college football? A couple of the guys I went to high school with played six or seven years of full pads football and are now blithering idiots. It’s really criminal.

    I haven’t watched any American football in nearly five years (aided by being out of the country for three). It’s just too upsetting.

    • “A couple of the guys I went to high school with played six or seven years of full pads football and are now blithering idiots.”

      This evaluation is meaningless without knowing their condition before playing…

      • Many of those who played 6 or 7 years of football were blithering idiots (albeit ones we commented on behind their backs) before they played.

        The difference is now they also require a diaper and help holding a spoon.

  3. As a former football fan I have a few random observations:
    – Thank you to Jack and others for convincing me that the NFL is as terrible as it is. Thanks to my parents for not letting me play when young. I was already on the way out a few years ago after seeing how helmets are engineered (I’m with those that support a return to leather helmets) but seeing how terrible injuries and studies have been handled accelerated it.
    – From a spectators point of view, cheating is what has killed the game in my social circles. I used to play fantasy football and watch games weekly with the same group of friends. Once the integrity of the game was in question, the fun ceased. Our weekly game watch parties have dwindled to the point that I did not watch a single game this season.
    – Football is strategically more exciting than most other team sports out there (sorry Jack, baseball is more about personnel management). It is also very physically demanding. And crucial plays can be spectacular. This has given football advantage over other sports in the public’s eye, but it has also been completely wasted by the league.
    – By the time politics became a lightning rod I was already on my way out, so no opinion there.
    – I still play flag football as a hobby, even watching middle schoolers play it at the local park can keep me entertained for hours. Then again, the strategy and coordination has been the main draw for me. No, I don’t watch NASCAR for the crashes.
    – I will miss football when it’s gone (or declined as boxing is now). I’d be happy if there was a substitute sport with similar strategic complexities and athletic demands.

    Happy 2018 everyone!

  4. This sounds like some nanny ethics to me. If the players know that they will/might get CTE and accept that risk/consequence for the reward that they want (money, fame, love of game, etc.) then I don’t see how this doesn’t follow the ethics of any other consenting interaction.

    If it does follow the ethics of a consenting interaction then the NFL is no more evil for profiting off of the work and potential injury of NFL players than the many other relationships that trades elevated or certain risk of injury for some reward. Combat sports, for-profit egg donors, for-profit organ donors, god damn ballet (the feet on many of those girls will be messed up the rest of their lives), BDSM master/mistresses, cosmetic surgery (arguably the most mercenary risk/reward trade-off in that there is very little societal gain), and many others. The list is long and varied.

    Sure criticize the NFL for failing to live up to it’s stated values in this instance, but condemning the entire relationship sounds a lot like disrespecting the value of human agency, choice, and responsibility. It’s not hard to imagine the slippery slope of empowering people to externally demand participant safety. What’s next? Ballerinas can only dance a certain number of hours per day? Boxers can only fight each other with kids jumbo blowup boxing gloves? You can only donate organs after youre dead? Nah. I’ll let football players willingly hurt themselves for millions of dollars if only to prevent nanny types from slowly encroaching on all of life’s dangerous and wonderful passions.

    Side note: lest you think me a football guy and therefore biased, my main sports are table tennis and Ultimate (as in Frisbee). I have not played a game of football since my middle school flag football league.

    • Paying people to hurt themselves for your amusement and profit is not ethical—even with full disclosure, which the NFL avoided, and is still avoiding. If you pay a drunk or a drug addict to eat dogshit, is that volitional behavior? Consensual? The movie “Would You Rather?” nicely explodes your theory. Money is power, and using money to make people hurt themselves so you can make more money (or get sadistic thrills) is abuse of power. Cheering that process is indefensible.

      Your case doesn’t stand up.

      • That’s reaching Jack. You’re materially misrepresenting the value exchange. The NFL isn’t saying to these players ‘break your bones/muscles/brain for money’ they’re saying ‘do this thing that you love for millions of dollars and knowingly (i.e. educated consent) accept some elevated or guaranteed risk of injury’. What you’re describing is some twisted PainFactor reality show not a sport with genuinely invested players. Night and day different, and your poor examples prove it. If I go to a drug addict under a cold bridge and offer them millions of dollars to do drugs, they’d do it, and sure they’ll be passionate about it but no reasonable and prudent person would consider them to be in a fit state of mind to accept that risk – it fails the educated consent qualifier. Eating dogshit likewise fails since I doubt that there is any sane human being in the history of man to be passionate about eating dog shit. A simple passion test: Lots of people perceive the cornerstone of their identities to be ‘football/soccer/hockey player’ none of them perceive that cornerstone to be ‘dog shit eater’.

        You know what does pass the test?

        ‘In the classical stage world: Ballerinas. ‘Dance because you love it and for small to moderate amounts of money and accept an elevated or guaranteed risk of disfiguring your muscles/bones/tendons’’

        In the screen acting world: Method actors. ‘Starve/tattoo/harm yourself for the craft you love and millions of dollars and accept the risks fo doing say. Christain Bale in The Machinist, or even better Adrain Brody in The Pianist – after 15 years his body STILL hasn’t fully recovered.

        In the medical world: Organ Donors. ‘Give us your eggs and help infertile women have children in exchange for zero to lots of money and an elevated or guaranteed risk of pain, surgical complications, reduced organ effectiveness/redundancy, and/or death’

        And you guessed it: the NFL.

        At best you can say that the players couldn’t have given educated consent during the period that CTE was known to exist and the NFL recognizing the risk. Even then, I’d look reeeeaaaaal suspiciously at folks who say they didn’t think there was any risk in repeatedly smashing your head into things.

        No sir. The NFL is no more evil for paying football players to play football than a dance director for paying ballerinas to dance, a director for paying an actor to act, or a sick man’s family paying for well organs.

        • RATIONALIZATIONS! The NFL is denying and obfuscating the CTE danger: players only find the truth elsewhere, not from their employers. Your examples do NOT compare.

          • Hardly. The NFL admits that CTE is a thing even if they’re not great about enforcing their own rules about it. Even if they denied it wholesale, it would be irrelevant to the educated consent qualifier since the info is public. To have educated consent you just need the info, you don’t need the NFL to rubber stamp it and say that they agree.

            From an NFL statement on CTE:
            …the NFL is committed to supporting scientific research into CTE and advancing progress in the prevention and treatment of head injuries.

            “In 2016, the NFL pledged $100 million in support for independent medical research and engineering advancements in neuroscience related topics. This is in addition to the $100 million that the NFL and its partners are already spending on medical and neuroscience research.”

            The NFL has made 47 rule changes since 2002 to protect players, improve practice methods, better educate players and personnel on concussions and strengthen the league’s medical protocols. The NFL deploys 29 medical professionals on the sidelines for each game. Working with the NFL Players Association, the league enforces a concussion protocol for players that has been instrumental in immediately identifying and diagnosing concussions and other head-related injuries.

            • What a load of crap. The NFL pays millennial gladiators to literally fight to the death, even if the death comes some time after their professional careers. The NFL has known about CTE for at least 15 years: their paltry actions now do absolutely nothing to stop the carnage. It is up to parents now to keep their kids out of the game, to stop the pipeline for the NFL.

              As an aside, I have a friend who worked for a major financial services firm and who was recently hired by the National Basketball Association, as a life- and finance-coach. This is important, and a meaningful move forward. Lesson: the money you make today will not be there for you indefinitely: you have to plan for your physical and financial future, WHILE you are making the big bucks.

              Seen the NFL do the same? No, you say: they want the big bucks now and. with the NFL as a co-conspirator, are willing to risk their lives for a short-term career. How can you possibly defend the NFL on this? Are you on their payroll, or just a moron?

        • Correction: In the medical world: Organ Donors. ‘Give us your organs and help sick people get well in exchange for zero to lots of money and an elevated or guaranteed risk of pain, surgical complications, reduced organ effectiveness/redundancy, and/or death’

          The organ donor example allowed me to use less clumsy language in downstream arguments and it wasn’t fully edited out of the rough draft when I hit post. My bad, Team.

        • How is it reaching? If the NFL says to players, “Every NFL player who has been tested (after death) has shown significant brain damage, of a sort that usually leads to premature dementia. But our fans like seeing hard hits to the head, so we will give you X millions to cripple yourself for their amusement. We, of course, will make billions.” That would be ttansparent–they don’t say that—AND it would be paying people to cripple themselves.

          I’m not talking about “pain”—that moving the goal posts. I’m talking about brain damage, and catastrophic harm to a player’s family. What teh players are being paid to do is, in fact worse than eating dogshit, and more harmful, to more people. You seriously make a distinction because the players enjoy playing? Nonsense. Alcoholics enjoy drinking. Drug users enjoy drugs. It’s bad for them. Paying addicts to stay addicted is no different at all.

          Your examples are not even close to on point. They would be if I was talking about knee injuries: yup, old NBA players can’t walk without pain, and old pitchers have had arms. BRAINS are not knees. Players with bad knees don’t kill themselves.

          You missed the better comp on show business: stunt performers. They are paid to take risks, but most live to a ripe old age, with functioning brains. The current evidence is that EVERY NFL player is suffering brain damage.

          And since you mention actors, and since I’m a professional director—it is unethical to ask an actor to harm himself for a part. A few fanatics like DiNiro and Bale choose to do it to themselves. Not a comparable situation.

      • Side note. ‘Money is Power’ is one of those things that’s true enough for me to not think it wrong, but not true enough to be a thing to create a hard rule out of. Kinda like the Cubs always losing.

        You can have all the money in the world but if people don’t want to do the thing you want for the price youre offering you can’t beat them over the head with stacks of hundreds until they comply. Money creates incentive it doesn’t force choice.

        • “Money creates incentive it doesn’t force choice.”

          But it does, to all practical effects.

          You can make a homeless person do almost anything. This is one reason why we do not allow strangers to sell organs. Money corrupts. In fact, it is probably the primary corrupter of all.

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