As the proper bookend to yesterday’s TMA, B.U. released the results of its study of former NFL players’ brains, and it’s not a number that the NFL wants talked about on Super Bowl week. This is the time that the NFL wants to celebrate itself, what everyone loves about it, why it’s become a religion in this country, and it certainly doesn’t want the other side of the devil’s bargain everyone has made with the sport rearing its head, whether it’s players, execs, fans, TV people, etc.
At the end of the day, this news isn’t a huge shock, though maybe the exact number pops a few eyebrows. We all know football is dangerous, and means bad things for those who get to the highest level due to the amount of time and hits it takes to get there. While the NFL might not be the definition of informed consent, it’s pretty close by this point. You’d have to be pretty sheltered to not know the dangers of the sport.
It obviously gives new light on the treatment of Tua Tagovailoa this season, which made a mockery of the mockery that is NFL concussion protocols. But if the league stuck to real protocols that actually made a difference, what would that look like? Would teams be showing up to Week 8 with 12-15 starters unavailable? Players immediately removed from games not to return at any big hit? As we said when Tua was knocked out, nobody wants that. The players don’t want that. Fans don’t want that. The league doesn’t want that. If anyone did, we’d see a drop in popularity or ratings. We haven’t. What’s the NFL’s punishment for still not taking concussions all that seriously? Haven’t seen one yet, other than their settlement with the ex-players who sued that they could easily afford.
Perhaps putting an actual number on it as this study does will scare more kids and parents away from the game at an earlier stage. There will always be enough players for the NFL, though the quality may drop. But how much would it have to drop for fans to actually change the channel? How many have to change the channel before the NFL stops being the all-too-powerful cabal that it is? Most of the NFL regular season was pretty dogshit this year and they were still the highest-rated programs on TV. You certainly don’t hear about the mediocrity of most of the regular season now.
We’ve all come to terms with it. And what system can be implemented that would protect players from themselves? The nature of the league means that pretty much every position other than QB, a player’s front office is always looking to replace them with the next younger, cheaper guy. Non-guaranteed contracts only make that easier. Miss a few weeks to look after yourself, and you may never get your job back. The next guy up wants to get his dollars too while he still can, after all.
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To really protect players, and to do that without altering the game beyond any recognizable state, would require a true restructuring of how contracts work and how rosters are built. How’s that going to come about? And really, where’s the external pressure? Fans don’t really care that much. They’ve had more than enough presented to them of the poisonous and ruinous nature of the game. We all keep tuning in.
Don’t forget hockey
Speaking of leagues that can’t really take head injuries seriously, here was Jacob Trouba clearing out Nazem Kadri last night. While Trouba has become a menace, this hit is clean and what he’s paid to do:
Of course, one of the more annoying facets of hockey these days is that hits like this, even though they’re legal and clean, almost always result in the hitter having to fight someone on the hittee’s team because…I don’t know, Canada? As much of an anachronism that fighting in hockey has become, these might be the most annoying. Here is one section of fighting that the NHL could eradicate, but serving 17 minutes in penalties (fighting major, instigating minor, and 10-minute misconduct) hasn’t stopped it. I don’t know that immediate ejections and a five-minute power play would do it either.
It’s not like Dillon Dube picking this fight is going to stop Trouba from throwing another check, or take back the hit he put on Kadri in some sort of time reversal. It’s pointless and dumb. Hockey has risks, just like football, but maybe we can do our best to get rid of the pointless and dumb ones.