The National Football League might be more successful than ever: for three consecutive years, the Super Bowl has scored record-breaking TV ratings. The league, however, is dealing with player safety and health issues never before encountered. Several hundred former players are involved in close to 50 lawsuits against the NFL over concussions they suffered during their careers — and it does not end there.
The league recently uncovered a bounty program within the New Orleans Saints organization that incentivized hard, injury-causing hits. According to the NFL, more than 20 Saints defensive players who participated in the scheme were paid extra cash for hits big enough to injure or knock opposing players out of the game. The penalties dished out in response to the scandal were historic.
Bounty Program Penalties
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Saints head coach Sean Payton without pay for the entire 2012 NFL season — an unprecedented penalty. No NFL head coach had ever been suspended, according to the AP. Given the lawsuits alleging former players’ concussion-related severe injuries, the NFL’s decision to create a zero-tolerance policy makes sense, according to CNBC Sports. Goodell is asking each NFL team to certify that they are not running similar “pay for performance” programs.
In addition to Payton’s suspension, former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely. The team was fined $500,000 and will lose draft picks. General manager Mickey Loomis and assistant coach Joe Vitt received eight and six-game suspensions, respectively.
The NFL’s legal issues keep growing. According to ABC News, the number of former players bringing claims could soon reach 1,000. The lawsuits, most of which are taking place in Philadelphia federal court, allege that the league withheld medical information, failed to give players full disclosure about the dangers of head injuries, and failed to implement policies to protect players from concussions. Furthermore, the former players claim the NFL should do more to make sure they are receiving proper care for head injuries.
Scientific studies show that repeated trauma to the head can lead to long-term brain injuries. These injuries do not only occur in the NFL. Football is a dangerous sport at any level — including "Pop Warner" leagues, Middle School, High School, and College. Players at every level are susceptible to severe head injuries, many of which go undiagnosed and untreated.
Head injuries may be more prevalent in football than in many other sports, but they occur regularly in many other recreational, school, collegiate, and professional sports. The focus and attention now being given to brain injury prevention in the NFL will eventually "trickle down" to the "lower levels," but many brain injuries are likely to occur due to uneducated but well-meaning (or worse, educated but overzealous) coaches.