By Steve Silverman
» More Columns
The last of the preseason games have mercifully passed, and we are now into the real season.
The NFL may be the most dominant of the sports from a business perspective, but the sport itself is going through a particularly volatile period.
The game as we know it is changing every year. It used to be about explosive hits, raucous defense and intimidation.
That has changed. Never more so dramatically than on Thursday, when the NFL settled its concussion lawsuit filed by its former players for $765 million.
Many of the cognoscenti are telling us that the NFL has gotten off easy by agreeing to settle. The league is indeed winning, because there will be no intrusive discovery, no lengthy trial and the damages are capped.
But the problems within the game will continue because the game is violent and always will be. That is why fans come to MetLife Stadium and the other 30 stadiums around the NFL. The game produces brutal collisions, and while there have been many rule changes to make the game safer, it can never be a safe game.
This is not news to anyone who has ever played or watched the game on a regular basis. The league can outlaw headshots and try to prevent defensive backs and linebackers from hitting defenseless players, but those rules can only go so far before the game is no longer football.
The settlement will help former players who have been damaged by the sport. But what about current players and future players who will also be damaged?
If the NFL’s lawyers on Park Avenue are thinking about some kind of hold-harmless agreement that they will make all future players sign, that is not likely to be a panacea.
The lure of fame, money and winning obscures the best judgment of all but the most logical players. While they are grown men who are responsible for any and all decisions they make throughout their life, they have been trained as football players since childhood.
They have been taught to hit and hit hard. It is ingrained in them until it is second nature. How do these players make any sense of a piece of paper that says their employers are not responsible for future injuries that can result in brain damage?
It doesn’t seem right that owners can get out of their responsibility to their workers merely because they will be forced to sign a piece of paper saying that they will not hold the keepers of the game responsible.
The NFL has always been the most complicated of businesses. American sports fans love football more than they love baseball, basketball or hockey. Perhaps they love their game more than the other sports combined.
But that may not save football in the long run.
Here’s what could happen. As the game is so dangerous and threatening, more and more parents will keep their youngsters from playing. The percentage of players that make the NFL is so minuscule that an ever-growing number of parents will not allow their children’s health to be put in jeopardy.
Many NFL players have said they would not allow their own children to play the game that has made them so much money. Those voices are likely to be heard with greater volume as the years go by.
We love football because it is thrilling, exciting and a brilliant test of athleticism and strategy. But the risk continues to grow, and all the lawyers and settlements will never change that.
That does not bode well for the future of the sport.
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