Since about five years old I’ve suffered from terrible migraine headaches, my mother didn’t have money to get me examined by a neurologist, so we made due with Tylenol and Advil. I loved playing football but sometimes I would get headaches during the game, they were usually brought on by a big collision or extreme heat. I always had Advil on the sideline and would take it if needed, but sometimes my head would throb unbearably causing me to miss a few plays until I felt good enough to get back on the field. I couldn’t help but feeling like I was letting my team down when these incidents occurred; of course it wasn’t my fault, but I felt disappointed in myself. My coaches always made a point of explaining the distinction between being ‘hurt’ and being ‘injured’. Injuries were severe, life-threatening occurrences; while being hurt was just temporary pain that could be shaken or ran off. The universal assertion was that real men play through pain. My reason for sitting out was always ‘my head hurts’ so I thought I should be playing through it. Oftentimes I went back out there when I knew I didn’t feel up to it, which helped my team and made me appear tough, but did not benefit me as I should have been recovering. I knew I wasn’t in good condition, but the pressure to perform, to win, to be a man, fueled me to play through it.
It is well known that contact sports are dangerous. Many injuries that occur are usually a result of participating in sports related activities. Despite having this common knowledge, people still continue to play sports because they are entertaining, fun, and profitable. Professional football, America’s most popular sport has recently been under scrutiny for injuries that lead to debilitating neuro-cognitive health later in life. In response, the NFL has taken multiple preventative measures to combat severe injury and protect its players. The NFL reached a $765 million agreement with former players who filed a lawsuit against the league in 2011 for not informing players of the long term effects from suffering repeat concussions. The ultimate goal of the settlement was compensation for the players’ medical and legal fees. However, the general consensus among former NFL players is disappointment in the terms of the settlement, namely the figure. $765 million seems like an unfathomable amount of money to the average citizen, but compare that with the almost $10 billion the NFL generates yearly and perspectives may change. Tony Dorsett, a former NFL player claims, “That’s my issue. The owners make billions of dollars, man. And the $765 million [settlement figure] – that’s like throwing a pebble in the sea” (qtd. in Red 1). Kevin Mawae, the former president of the NFLPA (National Football League Players Association), the players’ union, expressed his disdain with the settlement, “I think the league won big on this, because the players settled for a pittance” (qtd. in Banks par. 3). However, Mawae did not participate in the lawsuit; Sports Illustrated writer Don Banks explains, “Mawae did not add his name to the list of roughly 4,500 ex-NFL players who sued the league, saying he knew football posed inherent risks all along, but they were worth the rewards” (Banks par. 4). The NFL should not cover the medical costs of former players who are now experiencing debilitating neuro-cognitive diseases because it makes the NFL vulnerable to baseless liability claims, the players chose to play despite knowing the risks, and major improvements and changes have been made to ensure the protection of NFL players as more research became available.
A study covering risk of depression in retired NFL players found similar results, “Our findings suggest that professional football players with a history of career concussions are at an elevated risk for depressive episodes later in life compared with those retired players without a history of concussions” (Kerr, Marshall, Harding, Guskiewicz 2206). These studies provide a direct link between playing professional football and experiencing neuro-cognitive decline later in life. Although this is true, football is not the only factor. Ira Casson, M.D., former co-chair of the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee at the NFL states, “Depression is well-known to have multiple causative factors. Heredity, early-childhood life experiences, and life stresses… Association does not prove causation” (qtd. in Jost 89). It is difficult to single out football as the sole cause of these diseases, but the fact that physical sports are associated with concussions and concussions are associated with brain diseases makes football an easy scapegoat. Another factor one may not consider when looking at both sides of the spectrum is personal responsibility on behalf of the players. Language about return-to-play after a concussion in the new NFL safety rules and regulations states, “players are encouraged to be candid with team medical staffs and fully disclose any signs and symptoms that may be associated with a concussion” (NFL “Safety and…” par. 14). From this, one could infer that players have not always been very straightforward with their injuries due a desire to continue performing. The NFL cannot be at fault for a player who refuses to truthfully diagnose how severe his injuries are, they know it is a dangerous game and choose to play.
The NFL is a multi-billion dollar operation that is loved by the American people more than any other sport. Football is a dangerous game, the players know that when they sign their contracts and decide the risks outweigh the consequences. Even Mawae admits the settlement helps retired players, “The guys who need it now won, but the rest of us have lost the ability to take the bully behind the shed… I’d rather take the bully behind the shed and beat the crap out of him, and let him know he can’t bully us around (qtd in Banks par. 9). The league should not be considered bullies for protecting their interests as an organization, they are working with the former players in order to reach a reasonable solution. The NFL also realizes the danger of the sport and is attempting to make it less dangerous. While former players may experience declining mental health later in life, the NFL cannot be solely held responsible.
Banks, Don. “Former players: Devil is in the details with NFL concussion settlement.” Sports Illustrated (2013). Web. 12 Feb. 2014.
Farrar, Doug. “NFL, retired players reach $765 million settlement in concussion lawsuits.” Sports Illustrated (2013). Web. 12 Feb. 2014.
Jost, Kenneth. “Professional Football: Is the NFL doing enough to protect players?” CQ Researcher 20.4 (2010): 73-96. Web. 30 Mar. 2014.
Kerr, Zachary Y., Stephen W. Marshall, Herndon P. Harding Jr., and Kevin M. Guskiewicz. “Nine-Year Risk of Depression Diagnosis Increases With Increasing Self-Reported Concussions in Retired Professional Football Players.” The American Journal of Sports Medicine 40 (2012): 2206-12. Web. 12 Feb. 2014.
NFL, . “NFL Health and Safety Update-March 26th, 2014.” NFL.com (2014). Web. 28 Mar. 2014.
NFL, . “Safety Rules & Regulations.” NFL.com (2013). Web. 30 Mar. 2014.
Red, Christian. “Quality of life-debate Dorsett: Settlement is a start, but-future health costs still a concern.” Daily News (New York) 1 Sept. 2013, sports final ed. Web. 12 Feb. 2014.