Thursday, January 10, 2013

Is NFL Doomed to Extinction?

The revelation that former San Diego Charger linebacker Junior Seau suffered from CTE as a result of recurring hits to the head further cements what we already knew about football and the possible effects to the human brain of taking frequent hits.  Unfortunately, that's the good news for the NFL and NFL fans.

The bad news is what Seau's injuries--and increasing discoveries of similar brain trauma to other current and former NFL and college football players--portend for the NFL.  Not only is the NFL defending against a legal claim that it turned a blind eye to the known harms of playing in the NFL, continuing to promote and even encourage play no longer permitted in the league, but it now faces the very strong possibility of extinction as more parents ward their children away from football.

Clearly, the NFL has two options for dealing with the seemingly established link between taking hits in the NFL and brain injury.  The first is to make play safer.  That requires either more greatly reducing contact or providing more protective equipment.

Already, contact is greatly limited in the NFL compared to what was permitted just ten years ago and recent contact rules make the game virtually incomparable to play in the 60s and 70s when all hits were within the rules and hits that paralyzed were glorified.  While there remains room for improvement, outside of making football a no-tackle sport, additional changes likely will make only a minimal difference in a sport that, by necessity, has constant contact.

Improved protection thus seems like the NFL's last best help for salvation at a time when former players are discouraging their children from even taking up the sport.  The question is whether that protection will prove as discouraging to participation as the potential for injury against which it is protecting.

Up Next:  Spielman Pulls a Terry Ryan.  Plus, Harvin seeks assurances--personnel and financial.


robert rice said...

They need to put all their energy into developing a helmet that will absorb all the impact from any hit,plain and simple.Or else it may not bode well for this sport.Darn it.

vikes geek said...


They also need to stabilize the head. That requires additional protection for the rest of the body. At some point, this is either cumbersome or outright impractical. Until they develop a protective sphere that permits tackling of the sphere, they probably will face this conundrum.


HBandM said...


Appreciate your analysis as always. Too bad about the Vikes last weekend – always the bridesmaid never the bride.

I generally agree with your analysis but I think both you and robert rice have it wrong in this case. The NFL should be focusing on *less* padding and protection in the league, even (in my opinion) returning to the leather helmet days.

What seems to have happened are the unintended consequences of trying to help the players: by improving the equipment to the point of almost crash-dummy invulnerability the league simply invites harder and harder hits. Larger and larger players.

There’s just no sense of susceptibility in football because of the equipment. It’s the difference between muscle-to-muscle hits vs. muscle-to-plastic hits.

And don’t even get me started with the lottery-like atmosphere of being an NFL player. Believe me, no parents are going to discourage their sons from the sport if an undrafted rookie can make $300k in their first year signing on the team’s practice squad…

vikes geek said...


Thanks for the comment. Next year...

I don't buy the less padding theory. I think it sounds good because everyone "remembers" that nobody got hurt in the good old days. But people got hurt all the time before better equipment was introduced--they just did not know that they were hurt, did not care, or were conditioned to believe that that was how things were supposed to be. Although plastic helmets have become weapons on the field, the NFL has made significant changes to the rules to address that issue.

Regarding the ranks of future NFLers, I suspect even more parents would refuse to allow their children to play football were football to revert to the days of leather hats without a faceguard.

Ultimately, what is likely to happen in the NFL--if it has not already happened--is that the league will resemble the U.S. military. Those without will see football as a chance at a future. Unlike the military, however, the prospects of making it to the NFL will remain low meaning that youth football will be both a health risk and a low return prospect.