A few years back a friend that is a labor attorney told me that in CBA negotiations the NFL owners won’t call the players “the players,” they only refer to them as “the product.” In a country that is football crazy, we sure allow our heroes to suffer some shitty treatment. The league treats them barely better than livestock, and even that depends on the farm.
The coverage and attention that concussions and CTE have received in recent years is inconvenient for the multi-billionaires that own football teams. It highlights all the other bad things about the league. A terrible labor record, the danger in the sport, the “short week” so they can make more Thursday night money, the “macho” attitude that gets guys hurt, and just the general greed of it. The NFL would love for this to go away.
It’s not going away though. Thursday night I was sitting at dinner with a friend in Baltimore and she notices my face go shocked. She turns and looks at the TV and sees Tua Tagolaivoa laying on the ground and his hands looking like he’s either having a stroke or throwing up gang signs. I immediately say he just got his second concussion in a week. Her response? I’m not sure there will still be football in a few years. I don’t think she’s totally right, because of the size and scope of the industry, but she’s onto something. Mothers are going to want their boys playing less and less after watching these incidents.
It wasn’t long ago professional boxing went through this for letting former stars fight well past their prime, into dangerous stages. The truth is that the human brain isn’t made to take repeated beatings. Doing it out of little more than greed isn’t going to sell with society. The NFL both has to come clean on what it knows and understands about brain injuries, and lay out how they’re going to keep players safer down the road. The alternative is a barbaric, deeply cynical future where white collar, highly educated people keep their kids out of football, while all the “other” kids go take the risk in hopes of reward. It sounds as dystopian as it actually is. A few more scenes like this and it will be reality.