The National Football League is facing a third down and long situation in its massive class action battle against some 2,000 current and former players.
In the suit, the players contend the league has known since the 1970s that concussions suffered during a game can lead to long-term brain damage and dementia, but done absolutely nothing to safeguard their health and well-being. In its rather lame defense, the NFL has issued a statement saying players' safety has always been paramount and that the league has, in fact, issued any number of advisories and warnings.
As a former high school football player and lifelong fan of the NFL, I can tell you the league's words ring hollow. I distinctly remember my coach telling us to use our helmets as a weapon and to consider ourselves human missiles. “Aim for the opponent's chin strap," he'd scream at us. '"Your helmet will do the rest."
Like many Page members, I've attended countless NFL games and watched many more on television. The most savage hits are the ones that are played and re-played over and over and over again. The NFL doesn't hide from head shots; it revels in them!
As the player's suit contends, the league hasn't done anything to protect the players or lessen the focus on the most savage of hits. Indeed, one could liken the modern NFL stadium to the ancient Roman Colosseum; the only difference being the amount of blood being spilled. As the suit contends, the NFL continues to turn a blind eye on concussions and player safety because it “…wants to keep the fan base excited and interested in the violence of the sport."
The NFL's position reminds me of the scenario faced by Big Tobacco in the 1960s. Tobacco companies knew their product killed people; but there was simply too much money invested to admit any wrongdoing. And so they stalled and stalled, citing obscure and arcane legal precedents to prevent any sort of adverse regulation or legislation. The NFL is in exactly the same position. The league executives know they've done little to safeguard players over the years. But, hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake if they admit fault.
Now, as one former NFL player after another commits suicide, and thousands of players rise up as one to demand their rights, we see the league adopt a bunker mentality. No doubt following expert legal advice, the NFL has chosen to circle the wagons and issue bland statements that deny any wrongdoing while expecting fans and the general public to believe (and support) their position.
I wouldn't want to be in NFL Commissioner Roger Goodall's shoes but, if I were, I'd take the legal and financial hit, admit fault and announce a program to support the players and mitigate future head injuries. Doing otherwise may help the NFL win in court, but they most certainly will lose in the court of public opinion. More to the point, how could Goodall (or any league official for that matter) get up every morning and look at himself in the mirror knowing he isn't doing the right (and moral) thing? I've often wondered the same about tobacco executives. How do they live with themselves knowing they're hurting millions of others?
This is one NFL fan who is ashamed of the league's stance.
By Steve Cody
Co-founder and Managing Partner
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