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The NFL Is Dying a Slow Death, Much Like Its Players

Matthew Perry, Contributing Writer

I am an avid football fan. I make sure to finish my weekend to-do list before 1 p.m. on Sundays, I own four separate fantasy football teams and my dorm room is decorated with football paraphernalia. But sometime soon, fans like me will stop watching the NFL. There will come a time when NFL fans tire of making serious moral sacrifices just to enjoy a brand of sports entertainment which they can get elsewhere.

Most engaged sports fans have heard the horror stories of football players living with the consequences of head trauma that they suffered during their playing careers. Hall of Famer Junior Seau committed suicide, as did 21-year-old University of Pennsylvania football player Owen Thomas. Former Steelers wideout Antwaan Randle-El, at just 36-year-old, struggles with memory impairment. They were all diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a progressive degenerative disease caused by repeated head trauma. Symptoms include dementia, depression, and vertigo. Yet the sport of football doesn’t just debilitate adults. An average of 12 high school and college football players die every year, and around one-third of those deaths are due to head trauma. So kids aren’t just dying because of exhaustion or cardiovascular issues, they are dying because of big hits. Death isn’t incidental to the sport of football; it has become a natural part of it. Kids die in the run of play, because of repeated trauma from collisions that are encouraged.

The NFL spent decades covering up evidence of the link between football and CTE, and suppressed litigation revolving around concussion-related injuries until a landmark class-action case in 2013. Between 1990-2010, 62 high school and college-aged football players died of brain injuries. It took years for the NFL to admit that their sport might have something to do with this loss of life. But their hesitation is understandable — telling their fans to cheer at big hits was a cash cow. To admit fault would lay bare the existential crisis of being a football fan. But the cat is out of the bag now, and it’s growing progressively harder for NFL fans to justify their fandom. As more tales of CTE-related deaths emerge, and as more kids die on the field, fans will turn away.

And the NBA is waiting for them. Unlike NFL players, NBA players have inspiring stories that aren’t overshadowed by grim injuries, allowing for positive news and safe competition to drive interest in the sport. Basketball doesn’t kill kids or leave adults with lifelong brain trauma.

If the NFL doesn’t manage to make the sport safer without drastically altering its character, we might have seen its peak. Ratings may not drop precipitously anytime soon — 112 million people watched Sunday’s Super Bowl — but 20 years from now, we might be looking back at this decade as a turning point in football’s history.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

Email Matthew Perry at [email protected]

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5 Comments

5 Responses to “The NFL Is Dying a Slow Death, Much Like Its Players”

  1. Jeff on February 11th, 2016 12:24 am

    Matthew, first of all the NFL is not going anywhere. Let’s just get that out of the way. And let’s also be honest with ourselves. The violence is what makes the game great. The reason these athletes are paid so well with unbelievable health coverage and pension program is because of the risk. They are choosing to put their bodies on the line for fame and and a great payday. they are not forced to do this and there have been cases of players quitting because they feel the risk is not worth it. It’s their choice. The Mayweather/Manny P boxing match was the highest pay per view in history and was considered a boring fight because there was not enough violence. Every year they make the game safer but there are risks to everything we do, including football.

  2. Matthew on February 12th, 2016 10:26 am

    Jeff,
    You’re right, it is their choice. But before these last few years, fans like me didn’t know the cost of the game’s violence, so it was much easier to root for. Now, that’s changed. I’ve found that I don’t cheer for big hits, and they don’t elicit oohs and ahhs from the bar crowd I watch the games with. Not to mention that the players before the modern era, the players who are suing bc of the havoc CTE has wreaked on their lives, didn’t make an informed choice to assume the risks that come with football, because the NFL kept explication of those risks under wraps. All I’m saying is NFL fans today have to justify their viewership more seriously than fans 10 years ago did, and the emergence of other sports might steer these fans towards saying “being an NFL fan isn’t worth it”

  3. Kat on September 21st, 2016 6:54 pm

    As someone on the outside looking in, yes, it’s absolutely a dying sport. Why? It’s boring.

    Fans are primarily 60+ and are part of the mostly phased out network television generation. In fact, world wide, Football (soccer in the US) is the most popular sport. Personally I like basketball. Or better yet, be a competitor myself in an esports or twitch event in an international video game competition. That’s much more about wit and speed.

    It’s dying out because it can’t reach out to new fans. Especially with all the corruption and fan fair and cover ups of major crimes.

  4. Tom on September 23rd, 2016 1:47 pm

    Actually football will die as the players do. They majority of the league isn’t “well paid” there are guys on every roster making the league minimum and they have to be playing every week to do so. The NFL is the only major sport in America where you can sign a $100mm contract and only see $20mm of that. You are then taxed and owe your agent 3% so what Jeff considers a “great payday” is actually closer to 1/2 of what they are said to make, if they actually play out the contract and get all the non-guaranteed money. The league minimum isn’t over $1mm so the majority of the league after taxes isn’t getting a million dollars to play 16 games of football with a brain injury. The average career isn’t 10+ years…these guys are chewed up and spit out for a multi billion dollar business. They are used the same way nails and a hammer would be used at a construction site, a nail is bent? No problem, throw it away and pick up a new one out of the box.

    Players are video taped at practice, practice, imagine going to a 9-5 job and being video taped every minute of the day at your desk. What percentage of people would be fired? NFL players get fired on a Thursday in midday because of video tape showing they did X, Y, or Z at practice. Practice, where you’re supposed to practice to get better, is video taped and reviewed and people get fired from their jobs based on what it seen when you’re supposed to be getting better at your job. In what other job is this the case? Picking your nose at your desk? Maybe your boss doesn’t like it, and you had a bad 2 games and you’ve got a higher than they would like salary cap hit, gone, bye bye, fired.

    The amount of brain trauma suffered by NFL players by the time they make it to the NFL is 7 years (4 high school and 3 university/college) minimum. When you’re in high school there’s no independent neurologist on the sidelines to put you through the concussion protocol. You play football with the right side of your vision blinking or flashing positive/negative and it goes away and you play next week. Doesn’t mean your brain is healed or it’s healthy to play, it’s not a muscle or bone. There is a cost to be the boss, and when you run around and physically dominate your peers you get hit in the head and aren’t superman immune from all injuries and pain. You’re just a bad ass who’s going to play through it. The old “are you hurt, or are you injured?” is the biggest mind screwing phrase that’s ever existed in football, it essentially translates to “are you a pussy, or do you have a broken leg?” and what do you say when you can’t show someone your brain is broken? You can’t crack your skull open and point to the place that’s causing your vision impairment, the headache, the sensitivity to light, what’s the response to “are you hurt, or are you injured?” then?

    The deal breaker will also come IF the NFL players say “the league covered up PED usage, causing an unnatural rate of speed/strength and thus impact on brains”…What will happen then IF that’s the case? I’ve heard SO many people say “they’re all on roids” well…I don’t think 60+ players and 32 teams worth of full time staff at the team’s facilities are going to all tow the line and cover up rampant PED usage. But at the same time, if there was ever anything like that going on, those lawsuits about concussions would be a layup. You could argue that because the league turned it’s eyes and looked away from the PED usage, they then allowed an unnatural amount of force to be applied or dished out and expedite/heighten the brain injuries. I mean…Peyton Manning’s wife needed human growth hormone? If you find out what hgh is normally prescribed for then Mrs. Manning doesn’t have much time left on the earth. There is some type of PED usage going on when guys are coming back from torn ACL’s in 6 months, when players are failing PED tests and playing their rookie year roided out and appealing the suspension to do so like Brian Cushing did. Lane Johnson for the Eagles, is facing a 10 game suspension for PED usage and it’s being appealed and he’s playing? What if he gives someone a concussion while playing with an unnatural level of speed and strength? Is that what the appeal process what meant to do, give players time to play and make money, or take someone off the field who’s unnaturally strong, fast, agile and has an advantage? At 6’6″ 303 pounds Lane Johnson ran a 4.72 laser timed 40 yard dash, Luis Castillo, who tested positive for steroids at the same event years prior ran a 4.79 at 6’2″ 305 so it can be assumed (rightly/wrongly) that Lane Johnson’s entire career has been one of PED usage as he’s now tested positive for PED’s TWICE!! He’s unnaturally fast for his size, and is faster than someone who was caught, and actually had the humility to admit he was caught. So has the NFL and NFLPA, who aren’t completely innocent as they agree to testing procedures, just let Lane Johnson hand out concussions with his unnatural power and quickness?

    Football is dying, the author is correct, he just doesn’t know how correct he is, no offense to him intended. Players like Paul Oliver, you can listen to his wife tell her story. Players like Franco Harris, the guy can’t sign an autograph that doesn’t look like he’s not Michael J. Fox, but in the current year he can stand and smile and look great for his age in a photo. As more players get money via social media sponsorship, and they better invest their money, they won’t have to play as long, and the millennial generation and their “me me me me me” attitude might tell the NFL to stick it up their ass. Players will be angry 10 years down the road, 20 years down the road, when they can’t remember their kids names, when they can’t walk right, when they have loss of hearing or vision problems. When they have migraines and so on and so forth. They’ll know of guys like Paul Oliver, they’ll remember the players they never knew but shot themselves with a shotgun in the chest so their brain could be donated to protect them like Dave Duerson did. They’ll respect the sacrifice and the struggle that players with brain injuries who came before them went through. They will realize it’s not too late to “make this right” just because they got paid. Hookers get paid all the time, does that make what they do right, moral, respectful, or good? It doesn’t mean they can’t regret what they did, and wish they could take it back and that it’s not ok to have those feelings and admit they made a mistake.

    Every week college and university educated men from every single different upbringing across America play football and get hit in the head repeatedly. Just because they were paid doesn’t mean there’s not a problem with concussions, trauma and brain injuries. If you don’t know who Paul Oliver is find out, CTE changes people.

  5. Ed on October 11th, 2016 4:31 pm

    I think, when OJ dies, they should examine his brain. Would not be surprised if CTE is a driver of his bizarre mental state

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The NFL Is Dying a Slow Death, Much Like Its Players