October 4, 2013
The NFL Buys Its Players Brains
The National Football League (NFL) recently came to a $765 million settlement in regards to the lawsuits filed by roughly 4,500 former players suffering from traumatic brain injuries (TBI). This settlement details that $675 million will be placed in the hands of ex-players and their families who have had to deal with the consequences of TBI.
One of the most recent examples is Junior Seau, a linebacker who played for the San Diego Chargers. Seau committed suicide this past May. An autopsy by the NIH revealed that he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which was likely caused by on old concussion. Evidence of CTE has been found in the brains of 33 deceased NFL players.
The NFL has been harshly criticized for misleading its players about the dangers of the sport and minimizing the risks of ignored concussions. Perhaps this is true. There has always been the general assumption that being hit on the head is “not good.” As early as 1933, the National College Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) warned against the dangers of concussions and stated that they were treated too lightly. In 1952, the New England Journal of Medicine recommended that players who had suffered three concussions should walk away from football forever.
However, these are merely suggestions. The fact of the matter is that we did not and still don’t understand concussions and resulting TBIs. TBI is difficult to diagnose and even more challenging to treat. It manifests differently in each individual. There is no way that the NFL could have done everything perfectly. There was not enough available information about the risks of head injuries.
Due to this settlement, the NFL is not required to admit to any wrongdoing. I would argue that that is a fair bargain. Based on the nature of football and the availability of information, what else could have been done?
Think about it. Football players are unlikely to admit to injuries in a game setting. In this high stress environment, they often do not feel the effects of a hard hit until much later. Perhaps the NFL should have had stricter guidelines or paid more attention. But, the individual has some responsibility in his own health and safety.
What happened to Seau and other players like him is an absolute tragedy. But, we cannot place all of the blame on the NFL. Players choose to play. We choose to watch. As a society, we love a hard hit as much as a great play. We adore our Sunday afternoon heroes that charge onto the field each week. We wear their colors, attend their games, and shout at our television screens.
Yes, we value the health and safety of the players. But I think that we often forget that they are actual people; those mesmerizing catches and breath-taking stiff arms are not being performed by super humans. As fans, we need to realize that our expectations of the game must change.
It must be a combined effort. The NFL, players, and fans must realize that temporary glory is not worth a lifetime of suffering. We all love football, but we must prioritize the health of the players over the integrity of the game. The NFL may have bought out their brains this time, but it should not be expected to in the future.