The proposed settlement between the National Football League and players who have suffered traumatic injuries appears, at least on first blush, to offer a fair resolution to a deadly serious question: Is football dangerous to the lives of its players?
The answer is clear. Why else would the NFL agree to pay nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars in compensation? The allegation of the players, including stars like former Dallas Cowboy Tony Dorsett, was that the league concealed the long-term dangers of concussions and of rushing injured players back onto the field, even as it profited from the controlled violence that defines professional football.
It got worse. The New Orleans Saints actually paid a bounty to players who injured opponents sufficiently for them to leave the game. That’s part of a sport?
To the league’s credit, Commissioner Roger Goodell reportedly instructed the league’s lawyers to “do the right thing for the game and the men who played it,” but neither that nor the sacks of money will compensate players with conditions like chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive, degenerative disease linked to repeated concussions and other head injuries. At least one player, Dave Duerson, committed suicide. The former NFL safety shot himself in the chest so doctors could examine his brain. They found evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
The unprecedented class-action settlement, which must be approved a judge, may or may not resolve the NFL’s problem, but it only scratches the surface for the rest of football. How many of the players who will claim a part of this settlement received their first concussion in college or even high school? How many got the second and third concussions there?
If this matter doesn’t sound alarms in school and college athletic departments, then leaders there are misplacing their priorities. The safety of students – not football glory or money from ticket holders or television contracts – has to be the primary focus, and with what we know about the long-term effects of the brutal hits that this sport encourages, football cannot ever be played in the same way again.
Starting this week.