Football has been one of America’s favorite pastimes for decades, ranging from the National Football League (NFL) to High School sponsored football events. However, the numerous brain injuries and concussions received by players from every league have caused skepticism about the safety of the sport and some athletes have even left the sport altogether. Amid these incidents, two questions have arisen: What is the role of the NFL in promoting safety in football, and does it conflict with their financial interests? Though other organizations such as USA football should give a helping hand in promoting safety, the NFL also needs to take a stance to promote safety in the sport, and even though major organizations covering football have steered away from the subject in the past, the growing public awareness of the issue suggests that it might be in their best interests to address the issue.
Before addressing what the NFL should do to combat the issue, the importance of other football associations in promoting safety is clear.
Organizations like USA Football have shown to be capable of improving the danger level of the sport and have managed to do so on levels other than the National League. According to the New York Times, USA Football has explored other ways for the sport to be played in more youth leagues like modified tackle and these alternatives, “Coaches would also rotate players in different positions during games to give everyone a chance to carry the ball and avoid mismatches between large and small kids” (Belson).
Given that the NFL doesn’t actively carry out the matches of youth leagues, they shouldn’t be solely responsible for aiding in promoting less dangerous alternatives and new safety equipment. The actions of USA Football and related football organizations prove that they do possess the ability to improve the sport. With that being said, the NFL should also take action on these occasions, and it appears that they have contributed in some ways. Reports stemming from The Washington Post in regards to the NFL’s role in sports’ safety showcase that they have co-sponsored such efforts as “Heads-Up Football” which emphasizes safer tackling techniques and increasing public awareness and some members have even appeared in more youth leagues (Maese). Because the NFL is the largest and most prominent football league in the country, their efforts to promote new ways of playing football to ease public concerns about concussions and other injuries can spark change in other, smaller football leagues. Given that viewership and coverage of NFL games and activities is a prominent way of increasing the fanbase for the sport, people will become more aware of the alternatives and possibly allow their children to play the sport.
Another factor that must be addressed is how do the efforts of the NFL and other leagues relate to their financial goals of the sport. Previously, prominent businesses have turned a blind eye to the issue of concussions. Several reporters for the New York Times have noted how ESPN, a business most notable for televising and covering college football, ended its partnership with the PBS program “Frontline”, which examined concussions within the sport, and “that the decision was made after top ESPN executives came under pressure from the league” (Miller, Eder, and Sandomir). Actions like these aren’t far-fetched, given that if the public were to gain more insight about the injuries that occur within football, their audiences might be inclined to end their viewership to not support such a dangerous sport and prevent their children from entering a youth football league. Believing that this would conflict with their financial goals, ESPN bowed out of this agreement. However, the growing public awareness of the issue suggests that turning away from the issue of head injuries might not be that wise anymore. Another article coming from The Washington Post in 2013 reported that a total of 43,000 players, a quarter of the NFL’s alumni, were suing the league for their injuries and that several prominent public figures such as the President and even Howie Long, who had long been associated with the sport, have stated they would have a tough time allowing their children to play in a football league (Maese and Jenkins). With many athletes suing the league for chronic neurological damages they have received while playing football, not only would the NFL suffer from the loss of potentially millions of dollars, but it also creates negative public perception. Since playing in youth leagues is a major way of increasing the sport’s fanbase and even creating potential future athletes, parents discouraging their children from playing football due to the negative perception the NFL has obtained through awareness of these head injuries, lowers the popularity of not just the NFL, but for the sport itself. Thus, fixing this public perception and promoting safety might be in the best interests of these organizations.
While there is no denying the impact that football has had on American culture, the downsides of the sport like concussions need to be addressed. While turning a blind eye to it might have worked in the past, the awareness of the public towards the head injuries and neurological damages associated with the sport means that promoting safety might be the way to go. By introducing new rules and gear or even educating the public about new ways to play the sport, football can perhaps be held in the high regard that it once was.