Jan 21, 2016
The Decline of the NFL
With each passing Sunday we get closer to the big game. Super Bowl 50 is only a few weeks away, and if you were unaware of that, I shudder to imagine how big the rock you live under might be. The National Football League has become a cornerstone in American culture, a staple in many American homes. The day that was once devoted to the church is now devoted to the couch, and the flat screen. But as the great George Harrison once sang, “ All things must pass.” The NFL has passed its apex in America; due to its own neglect of the physical and emotional strain imposed on its players, along with the aggressive, violent, militant culture that is bred within the sport.The game of football is, by nature a very physical and violent game. The statistics, however, illustrate the true risk involved with playing football in the NFL. As of today there are 32 teams that make up the NFL and each team is restricted to a 53-man roster. Thus, there are a total of 1,696 NFL players at any given time. As reported by the news web site ThinkProgress, there were just over 1,300 official injuries, including 87 concussions, recorded in the 2013-14 season. That is over 76% of all NFL players suffering an injury per season. In a letter to NFL fans in 2013, league commissioner Roger Goodell claimed, “as a league, we have unwavering commitment to player health and making our game safer. This is, and will remain our top priority.” The sentiment expressed by Goodell is noble and worthy of praise, however, the actions of the league have been contradictory to those promises. In 2006 the NFL added a weekly Thursday night game into the schedule, thus giving players half the amount of recovery time as they had been accustomed to. The Thursday night game is generally only one game, meaning not every team is subject to the shorter week of preparation and recovery. Still many players have spoken out in regards to the hypocrisy being demonstrated by the NFL as it pertains to these Thursday night games. Stanford graduate, and Seattle Seahawks Pro Bowl cornerback, Richard Sherman says, “It’s rough, it’s rough on the body. Any time you play a football game and play another one a few days later, it's going to be tough on the body.” With a hint of sarcasm he added “ -But it's just one of those things. Another one of those simple contradictions of the league, because they care about us.” The league has also discussed adding games to an already physically demanding 16 game regular season. To that Sherman says, “You talk about player safety, but you want to extend the season and add Thursday games? It’s talking out of both sides of your mouth.” Sherman is not alone in his distrust when it comes to the NFL’s words versus their actions. All pro running back Arian Foster was less subtle about his feelings when he said, “The NFL is putting every football player on the field in danger with Thursday games.” Many players and coaching staffs have a mantra they use when facing adversity due to injury; “Next man up!” It is hard to avoid hearing this motto from players and coaches, as it is a way of life in the sport for “casualties” of the game to occur. The parallels to war are endless in the football world. Many strategists look at the game with a war type approach. In 2012 the New Orleans Saints were handed severe punishments and penalties for what has been coined as “Bountygate.” The Saints were penalized by the NFL for offering “bounties” or cash bonuses to players for injuries inflicted on players of the opposing team. Unfortunately, this is not the only case of “smash for cash” activities in NFL history. Hall of Famer Reggie White said in a 1996 interview that he spent his entire $13,000 game check to reward players $500 apiece for big hits in Green Bay’s playoff win over San Francisco. “ I don’t know if the money is any more motivation, but I know I paid out a lot,” said White. The football field is much like a battlefield, with strong, well trained, disciplined men doing all they can to enforce their will on the opponent. These men give their blood, sweat, tears, limbs, and sanity to the game. When they retire many of them find themselves suffering from acute PTSD symptoms, much like returning war veterans. Until recently the NFL has vehemently denied the possibility of football related activity having a correlation with the brain trauma and psychological damages that had been diagnosed in its retired players. The neglect the NFL demonstrated by not acknowledging such injuries had enabled them to escape the burden and expense of insuring their retirees. There are currently more than 30 cases of deceased former players with a confirmed CTE ( Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) diagnosis. The 2015 film "Concussion" goes into great detail on this subject. When former players banded together to take the NFL to court over their unknowingly being subjected to such potential health risks, the public began to become more aware of the situation. The NFL quickly and quietly settled with over 4,500 former players by swindling them into a deal that would supposedly pay them, along with new retirees, $675 million over 65 years. Read more about the sneaky misleading agreement at Vice Sports. The former players are still fighting for fair compensation. There are people out there who would contend the NFL is not so bad, that these athletes make a lot of money to simply play a game. As true as that may be, I tend to think those holding this belief will be surprised at the actual numbers. There are some players in the NFL who make an egregious amount of money annually, on the other hand there are many players simply making a decent living. The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) reported the average NFL player's career lasts 3.2 years. According to Business Insider, the average NFL player salary is $1.9 million annually, ranking the NFL as the lowest average salary among the 4 major North American sports leagues, 2.5 times less than baseball’s average salary. The NFLPA has come up short compared to the other major sports player unions in other areas as well, such as the fact that all NFL contracts are non-guaranteed. That means that if a player were to sign with a team for x number of years and for x number of dollars, the team has the right to cut this player at any time during the length of the contract. A player can be released for any reason, including injury. When released, a player is no longer entitled to the compensation agreed upon in his contract. This is far behind other major sports; Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association both virtually always guarantee contracts between player and organization. Based on the numbers, an average professional football player will earn roughly $6 million in their career, many making much less. After three years of NFL football an average player will end their career at 25 years old with $6 million earned. That individual will undoubtedly need to find another line of employment after their playing days are through. A new study broadcast by the PBS program "Frontline" shows that CTE appeared in the brain tissue of 131 of 165 individuals tested who before their deaths played football either professionally, semi-professionally, in college, or in high school. As these trends grow and more data is examined, it is no wonder that participation in youth football turnout is declining in pockets of America. Many parents are beginning to prohibit their children from participating in this dangerous game. When speaking to David Remnich of the Washington Post, President Obama said if he had a son, “I would not let my son play professional football.” NBA superstar Lebron James told ESPN.com “It’s a safety thing. As a parent, you protect your kids. I don’t think I am the only one not allowing his kids to play football.” It is not just outsiders to the sport refusing to allow their children to participate either, Hall of Fame Quarterback Terry Bradshaw told Jay Leno in 2012, “If I had a son today, I would not let him play football.” These sentiments are shared among many of the games past heroes including, Troy Aikman, Bart Scott, Antwaan Randle El, and Brett Favre to name a few. As sports such as soccer, lacrosse, and basketball surge in popularity among our nation’s youth, it should come as no surprise to see the popularity of football decline. When we look back in history to the year of the first Super Bowl, the year was 1966, the world was watching Jim Palmer face off against Sandy Koufax in the World Series. Baseball was America’s game. I wonder what all of us will be watching 50 years from now? Odds are it won’t be football.