Let me preface this column by stating the obvious: concussions are not a good thing. Repeated concussions are no doubt even worse. Beyond that I’m far from qualified enough to speak intelligently about the long term effects of concussions and how they may impact an individual’s life in the short and long term. What I do feel qualified to speak on is the apparent public relations battle that the NFL is waging right now regarding concussions.
The first shot fired this offseason was when Roger Goodell and the NFL elected to suspend former and current Saints players and coaches for their role in the alleged bounty scheme orchestrated by Gregg Williams. While few will argue that some type of significant punishment is deserved if the parties involved are indeed guilty, many respected journalists as well as former and current players have characterized the sanctions as being well over-the-top. In other words, Goodell has attempted to portray himself and the league as being the protector of the players, but in this case the players themselves simply aren’t buying it — and thus many fans aren’t either.
Now flash forward to two pieces of news that came across the wire this morning. The first is an email sent out by the NFL to about 3,200 former NFL players. In the email the NFL cited a study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which noted that former NFL players are actually living longer than males of the same age who didn’t play in the league. At first glance this is great news for the league, and certainly a feather in the cap of those claiming the game is safe. But the details of the study don’t give me the same fuzzy feelings as the initial headlines do. The study notes that NFL players have a lower chance of developing cancer and/or heart-related diseases, which should come as no surprise since it takes a certain dedication and commitment to keep yourself in shape in order to continue playing in the NFL. What the study didn’t address, however, are neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and ALS. In other words, the study doesn’t address whether or not repeated blows to the head have caused lifelong problems for those former players still living. Without this data, and without a study actually detailing the quality of life of former players, this study is barely worth the paper it was printed on in my opinion.
Lastly, consider this morning’s tweet from NFL P.R. man Greg Aiello, in which he urged parents and female athletes to watch a clip from the TODAY Show regarding girls suffering more sports-related concussions. Look, yes I believe this is a problem that needs to be publicized, but you can’t sit there and tell me that the NFL and it’s public relations team didn’t pull the old “look, it’s happening everywhere” routine with this one. So while there’s nothing wrong with Aiello tweeting such information, it’s simply hard for the cynic in me to believe that he doesn’t have an alterior motive in pointing out such data which in no way involves male athletes or the game of football.
Who knows? Maybe it’s just me, and maybe I’m completely off target here? But I’m personally pretty tired of what appears to currently be nothing more than a public relations game by the NFL (and I felt the same way when the NFL and NFLPA were waging similar battles during the lockout). Does the NFL truly care about concussions and the health of their current players? I actually believe they do. But when the league has clearly ignored nearly two decades of concussion data (as documented this week on ESPN’s Outside The Lines), when the suicide rate for NFL players is nearly six times that of the average American, and when over 1,300 former players are suing the NFL for concussion-related problems; it becomes hard for me to believe the NFL is waging nothing more than a public relations battle at this time. What about you?