There are currently 32 teams in the NFL with around 50 men each. That adds up to about 1,700 men, who tackle, clobber, sack and pummel each other for a salary — an average of $2 million a year, to be specific. Although spectators may love the aggression of the game, a 10-pound head is not made to withstand the force of a 300-pound lineman, no matter how advanced their Riddell helmet may be.
More than 4,500 former players have filed suit against the NFL for all their health problems acquired during games. The NFL reached a $765 million settlement with the former players in August 2013. U.S. District Judge Anita Brody rejected this tentative agreement in a statement filed Tuesday, as she felt with the current sum, “not all retired NFL football players who ultimately receive a qualifying diagnosis or their [families] … will be paid.”
Christopher Seeger, co-lead counsel for the plaintiff’s settlement is still hopeful both sides will agree on a sum to compensate concussed players and their families. However, when a string of valued players, such as Dave Duerson, Junior Seau and Paul Oliver, kill themselves after having a history of head trauma, simple monetary compensation doesn’t exactly seem fitting.
The family of Jovan Belcher, a former player for the Kansas City Chiefs who killed his wife and himself in 2012, is pursuing a lawsuit against the team. Belcher’s family claims their son is not responsible for the murder of his wife and his own suicide, and is rather blaming the NFL for ignoring his mental health.
Negligent employers are responsible for the foreseeable harm inflicted on their employees. Not just for the sake of morals, but also for the sake of their business. In this case, if the NFL wants fans to keep coming to their games, they have to keep their most valued players in good cognitive health. But in a game where head traumas are often caused in the path to a touchdown, such may be easier said than done.
Although the NFL has a responsibility to protect their players, the players have just a big of a responsibility to protect themselves. At the end of the day, the NFL is a business that wants to make itself as marketable as possible. And what is a good game of football without the cringe-worthy tackles that elicit “Oh’s!” and “Ah’s!” from the audience? Friendly aggression keeps fans on their toes, but at the same time, may break those of the players.
When players sign their million-dollar contracts, they obviously know the ins and the outs of the game — each probably having suffered at least one concussion during their peewee and varsity years as well. Duerson, Seau, Oliver and Belcher were all just playing a sport that they loved, and were willing to accept the consequences of the competition.
But when such brutality is endured and left untreated, things can get out of hand.
In a sport so hypermasculinized, pride tends to be overemphasized. A player could just shake off a headache with a few doses of Advil. But it is hard to imagine that a 300-pound lineman would complain about a concussion and surrender to help when they don’t think they need it. After all, weakness is a football player’s greatest enemy.
Everyone wants to watch a fair game of football that has a flare of excitement. A competitive spirit is entertaining, but when it gets to the point where people’s cognitive health is jeopardized, that is just poor sportsmanship and blind negligence by the NFL.
It would be impossible to eliminate injuries such as memory loss, depression and cognitive dysfunctions from the game. Although $765 million may be enough to cover some medical bills, this money should be shoveled into preventative programs such as periodic mental health screenings and educational programs. There are often predictive signs of mental instability — self-harm and homicide don’t just happen out of the blue. Concussions are something the NFL and players themselves must own up to.
If a player twists and ankle or breaks a limb in the middle of a game, trainers can simply run on the field and bandage him up. Unfortunately, mental health cannot be cured so easily.