NFL Opinion: Is the NFL at Fault for Recent Suicide?

The tragic news of former NFL star Junior Seau’s suicide and the link to injuries he sustained to his brain bring to remembrance Howard Cosell’s declaration nearly 30 years ago when he decided to quit announcing boxing matches because he was “appalled by professional boxing’s viciousness”. Cosell later called for an end to the sport. While Cosell’s statements may have been drastic, one with the guts of Cosell could make similar statements about the NFL and the head trauma epidemic facing the the league. They could also take it a step further and discuss how the NFL exploits their players and cares more about profits for the owners than the human beings that play the game.

On December 13, 2010 the National Football League reported that concussions were up 21% from the previous year and a 34% increase from the 2008 season through week 8. 154 concussions were sustained by players in practice, exhibition, and during the first 8 games of the 2010 season. Sure the league has tried to address this ridiculously high number by adjusting their rules, but the fact is football is a barbaric sport that has and will cost players their health and in some cases, their lives.

To add insult to injury, the league exploits many of the young men that enter this sport. Many of them come from low socioeconomic backgrounds and see football as their only shot for a better life. They are willing to do whatever it takes including sacrificing their body and perhaps their future in search of a better life. What these kids do not take into consideration is that their contracts are not guaranteed and that the average NFL player only has a 3.5 year career and are then dropped like a piece of trash if they get injured and can not play anymore. Their contract is not guaranteed and they leave what was their only hope for a better future with arthritis, head injuries, back injuries, or worse.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell argues the length of a players career, and while doing so shows how little value he has for the players in his sport. Goodell claims the average NFL career is just under 6 years. He reasons that the 3.5 year average includes players that do not make the opening day roster. He fails to consider that many of these players do not make the roster because they are injured trying to make the team. Is this how little value he has for his players?

The fact that a team can sign a player to a contract, then cut that player without fulfilling their agreement is disgusting! Fans should be outraged at how some of these young athletes are exploited. They risk their bodies and their very lives and the NFL offers no guarantee that they or their families will be taken care of.

The NFL has two issues. First, they need to change the rules of the game drastically enough that concussions are a rarity. Having over 150 midway through a season shows the lack of value that the league has put on their players safety. Secondly, they need to restructure how they pay players so that they are compensated if an injury ends their career. Right now the rule is completely one sided favoring the NFL. The player needs to have rights and entitlements too.

The NFL has not done enough to prevent the issues that have caused over 100 former players to bring litigation against the league for head injuries that were sustained. The league needs to step in and do whatever it takes to change the game to prevent this widespread problem. They also need to renegotiate with the players union and give fair payment terms to the players that generate the revenue that the owners enjoy. The negotiation has to be in the spirit of doing what is right for the players, not because the league has the bargaining power over the players.

Howard Cosell called his approach, “Let’s tell it like it is”. In the spirit of Cosell I say two things to the fans of the NFL. Do not continue to watch this game that puts human beings lives in danger. If many stop watching, the league will get the message and take the necessary precautions to keep their players safe. Secondly, stop watching the game until the NFL establishes a better agreement with the players to pay them what they are owed instead of being able to cut a player who has been injured. To the NFL, what more can I say? Just do what is right! it is already too late to do the right thing by Junior Seau.

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  1. Michele Shanklin says:

    Bill, you are right on target. Unfortunately money is what makes the games go around. And the fans will not leave even if players are dying for their entertainment. You can liken it to the old coliseum games in Rome, where people enjoyed watching the “games” that consisted of people playing until they died. With as much money as players make, I think the league needs to use some of the players money to set up retirement and disability plans. Honestly, who actually NEEDS to make over $100,000 a year? John and I are supporting a family of four on less than half of that. NO ONE NEEDS that much money. So cut the players salaries in half (they will still be making PLENTY of money), and put the extra into retirement plans so the players are not destitute when the “game” is over for them and the fans and the NFL forget about them and throw them to the side when their careers are over.

  2. Michele Shanklin says:

    I LOVED Howard Cosell!

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