Thursday, December 11, 2014

Is the NFL Going Up In Smoke?

According to a recent New York Times article, more than 500 former NFL players are suingthe National Football League for football-related brain damage. Attorney Jason Luckasevic became enraged with the NFL when his brother’s boss, forensic pathologist Bennet Omalu, confirmed the connection between football and brain damage. Talking with and examining former pro players, Omalu determined patterns of brain injury from autopsy specimens of deceased players. In addition, there are numerous examples of cognitive and behavioral changes in former players such as headaches, sleeplessness, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, early onset Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinsonism, among others. Omalu received violent backlash when he published his findings in 2005 and Luckasevic was determined to find a way to support Omalu’s findings—hence, the lawsuit. The complaint is based on the contention that players knew their bodies would be put in jeopardy when they signed up to play the game of football, but they were not aware that their emotional and intellectual well-being would be jeopardized as well. Unfortunately, the players may not receive the damages they are entitled to should the suit be barred by the sport’s collective bargaining agreement. First filed in 2011, the suit is now moving to final settlement, raising many issues and implications to consider while we wait to see how this all turns out.

Football’s class action suit is being compared to what happened to the tobacco industry. Far-fetched at first glance, I think there is real merit to this idea. The tobacco industry thrived for a while and then once everyone realized, based on sound medical data, what it meant for one’s health and well-being, the industry virtually died. Similarly, football is thriving and is easily the most watched sport in America, bringing in $9 billion just last year. Yet, Omalu’s findings have surfaced its short and long term dangers. Perhaps football, like the tobacco industry, will fall to the wayside in favor of safer, less contact heavy sports.

As a result of the medical findings supporting this lawsuit, we can imagine terrible implications for the future of football. Professional contracts may include head injury waivers, leading to fewer athletes to opt into the field. More athletes at all levels may be wary to play at all—it is not difficult to imagine that parents will be apprehensive to let their little ones play in the first place, let alone at the collegiate or professional level. Schools may discontinue their football programs altogether, especially if they cannot sustain medical experts at their fields for practices and games. Should football fall from grace, their annual revenue will be nowhere near the $25 billion Roger Goodell predicts it will be in 2027. Yet, perhaps the athletes who would have played football will now populate into other, “less risky” sports like baseball or basketball. We could see a huge increase in those sports’ popularity and revenue as football’s declines.

There is no way to say if this grim future of football is or is not likely to become reality. But it is important to see that one attorney’s will can put a multi-billion dollar franchise in jeopardy.

- Samantha Albanese (Staff Editor, Denver SELJ)

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