NFL and Safety (Concussions): My Thoughts

It seems that almost every article and radio comment about the NFL nowadays deals with some type of safety issue, ie. concussions, bounties, the intentional injuring of opposing players, etc.  However, it appears to me that most of these discussions, while interesting, only focus on a narrow topic, ie. are bounty systems ethical, should Kurt Warner have criticized the game that made him a star (courtesy of several discussions on ESPN radio), etc.  None of the ones that I have looked at focus on the larger topic of "The concussion issue aside, do football players have better/worse long-term health outlooks than the general population?"

I would break the topic down into 3 groups: 1) People who play football through high school
                                                                       2) People who play football through college
                                                                       3) People who play football professionally                                                                          

I would measure the health outcomes of these three groups against the health outcomes for the population in general.  I think this information is much more valuable to football players in particular and the general populace (eg. parents who are thinking about signing their kids up for little league football) than the hearsay, single person point of views that pervade the airwaves and newspapers.

For instance, if I had children (I do not), and was thinking about signing them up for little league football, I would be much more worried if Group #1 lives 5 years less than average or has 2X the chance of developing such and such conditions than I would be about one particular incident, which might not be reflective of the norm.  Ditto for the young men (and sometimes women) who are thinking about participating in high school, college, or professional football leagues.

As for the NFL, I think that it has an obligation to undertake these studies (at the professional level) if they have not been performed already.  If the NFL is reticent, then the NFLPA has an obligation to its player members to undertake these studies.  These organizations have a further obligation of giving the results to NFL prospects (and current players).  In other words, the NFLPA could say, "Okay, if you play football, you are 2X as likely to suffer from this disease, and 3X as likely to get this one, etc.  Oh, and by the way, some people might try to injure you on purpose."

Once the NFL and/or the NFLPA have given the information to the player, they have done their duty.  Players can decide for themselves whether the benefits are worth the risks.  Let's face it.  Everything we do in life carries some type of risk.  Most jobs in fact entail at least a minimal amount of risk.  Even a desk job comes with risks; if I sit in a chair and stare at a computer screen all day, I might be more prone to developing heart disease or other illnesses (as a result of a sedentary lifestyle).  As long as people are fully informed of the risks of a particular job, they should have the final say in whether they will perform that task.

Now of course, the company (or in this case the NFL), does have some obligation to look out for its employees.  Soldiers don't go into battle without helmets; workers don't go into hazardous areas without HAZMAT suits, and players should not get on the field unless they possess the latest in personal safety equipment.  Nonetheless, at some point, it is up to the player (or his/her parent) to make the final decision; it is up to them to decide if the risk is worth the reward.

As an aside, I apologize if this post meanders a bit.  I wanted to posit my true feelings on the issue.  So, what i have written comes off the top of my head; it is a reaction to what I've been hearing and reading.

Update: Thanks to Jax's blog, Raviolis & Waterworks, for pointing to this Fox Sports article by Alex Marvez discussing a NIOSH study of NFL players which shows that, on average, they live longer...The study might not cover all the bases, ie. compare players to other groups regarding non-life threatening diseases like arthritis; however, those studies are likely out there as well.

1st photo courtesy of Stephen Horncastle (photographer/owner) via Wikimedia Commons.  It is from and part of the public domain via a  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 license.
(photographer/owner) via Wikimedia Commons.  The image shows Roger Goodell at the 2009 NFL Draft.  Ms. O'Leary has authorized re-use of the photo via a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

2nd photo courtesy of Marianne O'Leary (photographer/owner) via Wikimedia Commons.  The image shows Roger Goodell at the 2009 NFL Draft.  Ms. O'Leary has authorized re-use of the photo via a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.


  1. True words, I agree to you!

  2. Thanks for the link! :) It's appreciated!!

    I think that non-threatening life issues such as arthritis and other bone/joint health are inevitable with this sport. Word is each decent hit taken by a football player is comparable to a car crash. That has to take a toll on someone's body.

    Guess we thought alike today ;)

  3. I do agree with you when you say more research needs to be done, and the players can decide if the risk is worth the reward. Inevitably people will get hurt in a full contact sport like that so its understandable. From my perspective, the game (or equipment) has not been changed so drastically to where I can't enjoy it. I still enjoy watching it quite a bit although defense has a tougher time I think its understandable for safety purposes.
    The moment it becomes flag or touch football is when I'm going to start worrying!

  4. Hello

    Ya i also agree with Matt. Very informative blog. Thanks for sharing it.

  5. Interesting post. Thanks for the link to the study--I'd also agree that there should be greater research in this area.


  6. Es toda una motivación pasar a saludarte aunque no nos veamos. Solamente se encuentran y dialogan fluidamente los textos de nuestros sentimientos.

    Lo que nos une día a día sin tener en cuenta el tiempo ni la distancia que nos puedan separar, sin causarnos alejamiento alguno. Siendo una inmensa satisfacción saber que tú estas ahí y que escuchas el susurro de las palabras haciendo que sea aun más bello y poético el aliento de nuestra amistad.

    Un beso hecho suspiro

    Y un abrazo hecho zafiro

    Con mi afecto para ti

    María del Carmen

  7. Hello! It is very interesting...Thank You very much for link...

  8. informative thought post