The NFL is in trouble. The NFLPA is in trouble as well. I am not one of those who believe that there is an end to the NFL on the horizon but there are going to take a serious licking with this class action lawsuit.
Why you ask? Because both the NFL and the NFLPA have played politics against each other and every CBA deal they have reached has failed to take care of the previous generations. I am not making parallels to society, I am, however, talking about a multi-billion dollar industry that has focused on money and not its people. The biggest issue in the last CBA was the revenue share and I will wager a million swag bucks that was the primary issue before as well.
Football is a violent game played by individuals who love the violence within the strategy of the game. Make no mistake about it, there is no greater team game in the world. Soccer is a great game and my appreciation for it has grown tenfold as I have watched my youngest grow in the game. Hockey, Volleyball, Basketball, Lacrosse and many others are all great team games, but not one of them holds a candle to football. It is the sports marriage of athleticism and war. Athleticism because of the sheer nature of the size and speed of the players involved and war because of the strategy and tactics used on every play to gain an advantage and a breakthrough. It is our modern day version of Gladiators in the Coliseum.
The down side to football is that years after you have left the game, the game catches up to you in a physical way. The back, knees, and shoulders have all been chronic pain issues for former players but the brain was something that wasn’t really discussed because the incidence rate and the long-term side effects were not much at the forefront.
I am going to take a turn here. The reason I don’t think they were at the forefront was primarily because the football gear used by older generations was second-rate compared to the stuff they have today. The older pads were pathetic compared to what is worn today. The foam inside a helmet has been replaced by technology that protects the brain so much better, but the unintended consequence was that blocking and tackling techniques, primarily tackling, became less of a factor because players could use their bodies as battering rams and high-speed bowling balls as they threw themselves at opponents.
Just follow the progression. The NFL first outlawed leading with the head because defensive players and downfield blockers were just lunging at people crown first and the damage inflicted was becoming severe to offensive players. No technique just sheer force. I will tell anyone from experience, that leading with a foam helmet was a guaranteed brain buster but with a high-tech helmet it wasn’t near the threat to the person doing the hitting. But as the equipment has evolved, so has the size and speed of the players and blunt force that occurs at impact has multiplied.
The players in the 60’s and 70’s and early 80’s really haven’t been to affected in my mind, but the players from the mid 80’s forward as the equipment changed, Dave Duerson for one, have begun to succumb to the side effects of years of jarring impacts on the brains.
The NFL and NFLPA have both been involved in creating a game so great in both terms of competitiveness and value that they both failed to secure the future of the veteran players. Former Chicago Bears Coach Mike Ditka has been part of push for years to take care of veteran players and has fought tooth and nail for more money for benefits for these guys. Dave Duerson was one of his players so this whole issue has to hit close to home for him. Had the owners and the union done their part, aside from pensions, and really taken care of these guys, this data would have to come to front faster and they would have been able to address these issues before the lawyers got involved, but like everything in the human world, everyone got blinded by signing bonuses and bigger and bigger contracts. Now, though, they are going to take a real licking and the people who will suffer will be the players who need the help along with the fans. Without an NFL there is no revenue generation to take care of this problem now and for the guys who are playing now who will need the help in 15 years or so.
Many of the players in the NFL, would play for a whole lot less money if they knew they were covered in the long run. The big salaries now are getting spent up in a materialistic world and many players don’t have any money when they need it the most.
I think the NFL and NFLPA will be able to weather this storm. I am not a doomsayer when it comes to the end of the NFL, but if they don’t secure the future of their players in a substantive way that keeps the lawyers out of their business, then they will have serious issues.
If the NFL really wants to clean it up, maybe it is time for retro style pads instead of jerseys.