Friday, December 12, 2014

(Related Update 8): The end of the NFL?

Related update 8:  And now there's this from a recent Bloomberg Politics poll supporting the ominous trend detailed in the update 7 below:
Television ratings are up and merchandise sales are booming, but longer-term trends don’t look as rosy for football. According to a new Bloomberg Politics poll, 50 percent of Americans say they wouldn't want their son to play the sport and only 17 percent believe it’ll grow in popularity in the next 20 years.
These are grim numbers for a sport that’s seeing an onslaught of negative attention, including a parade of National Football League players accused of abusing their wives or children; a team name so offensive that some news organizations refuse to print it; and, perhaps most troubling to parents, thegrowing body of evidence that repeated blows to the head can cause long-lasting brain damage. The sport’s troubles have caught the attention of Congress, whose members hauled a league official to Washington for a Senate hearing earlier this month. Individual lawmakers have proposed ending the league’s tax-exempt status and putting its coveted anti-trust exception up for a five year review.
I repeat: the NFL is in serious, serious trouble.

Related update 7: This post is particularly relevant to related update 3 (below the fold), and deals with what appears to be a troubling (if you like football, that is) trend in youth participation:
USA Football, an umbrella organization partially funded by the NFL, estimated the number of children ages 6 to 14 playing tackle football decreased from 3 million in 2010 to 2.8 million in 2011. The National Sporting Goods Association reported that tackle football numbers dropped 11 percent since 2011.  And participation in the country’s largest youth football organization, Pop Warner, declined 9.5 percent from 2010 to 2012, as first reported by ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”
There's more of interest in the the Washington Times article. including a discussion on how teaching children the fundamentals of the game, both in terms of safety and effectiveness, may be a possible solution to the growing problem of concussions.

Related update 6:  Apparently PBS has produced a two-hour documentary based on the book discussed in update 5, below.  I haven't seen it, though I probably will make an effort to do so soon.  Bill Dwyre, of the LA Times, has seen it, however.  And in his article on the topic and the documentary, he stakes out an aggressive stance.  Clearly his goal is to attack the NFL via social pressure, and if his is the first of a flood of commentary, the image of the NFL is going to take a major, major hit.  Here's a portion of his article that will give you the flavor:
There are dozens of reasons why the NFL deserves to go away, to be banished from our sight forever. There are at least two reasons why that won't happen.
Tradition and Peyton Manning.
The Oct. 8 PBS show "A League of Denial" was a journalistic masterpiece. If you haven't seen it, find it. It is everywhere on the Internet. It should be.  It was two hours that can be oversimplified in one sentence: For years, the NFL knew its players were suffering head injuries that would bring serious long-term damage, yet it denied that, stonewalled the players seeking help and spent millions to muddy the truth.
FYI: I don't agree with much of Dwyre's article, and I certainly don't like his arrogant attitude and clear disdain for the owners in the NFL (me thinks his blatant, and blazing, envy got the better of him); but the point is that this topic is growing in both scope and intensity, and clearly represents an existential threat to the NFL at least, and possibly football itself.

Related Update 5:  But on the other, other hand, there's this from a soon to be released book by two ESPN reporters:
The National Football League conducted a two-decade campaign to deny a growing body of scientific research that showed a link between playing football and brain damage, according to a new book co-authored by a pair of ESPN investigative reporters.
The book, "League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth," reports that the NFL used its power and resources to discredit independent scientists and their work; that the league cited research data that minimized the dangers of concussions while emphasizing the league's own flawed research; and that league executives employed an aggressive public relations strategy designed to keep the public unaware of what league executives really knew about the effects of playing the game. ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated published book excerpts on Wednesday morning.
I don't know who to believe in this situation, but I do know that it's a developing story and issue for all football (as an earlier update below points out, it's not just the NFL that's at risk).

Related Update 4:  As always, there's another side of the story.  Here's an excerpt from the publisher of a new book by Daniel J. Flynn entitled, The War on Football: Saving America's Game:
But fear over concussions and other injuries could put football on ice. School districts are already considering doing away with football as too dangerous. Parents who used to see football as character-building now worry that it may be mind-destroying. Even the president has jumped on the pile by fretting that he might prevent a son from playing if he had one.

But as author Daniel J. Flynn reports, football is actually safer than skateboarding, bicycling, or skiing. And in a nation facing an obesity crisis, a little extra running, jumping, and tackling could do us all good. Detailing incontrovertible fact after incontrovertible fact, The War on Football: Saving America’s Game rescues reality from the hype—and in doing so may just ensure that football remains America’s game.
I have not read it, but it sounds interesting.  Perhaps this helps explain some of why the NFL players so readily settled for such a (relatively) small amount in their concussion class action suit (see updates below).

Related Update 3:  If you're a football fan, this article will scare the wits out of you.  Until I read this, I wasn't aware of the legal history of concussion and head injury monetary settlements at the high school level in the US.  Aside from the obvious, direct threat of lots of money being paid out to plantiffs, the larger threat to the sport -- specifically the NFL -- is the likelihood that pre- and high school football organizations will disappear, thus drying up the player pipelines to college and the NFL.  The opening paragraph of a recent ESPN article:
The NFL concussion lawsuit moved close to resolution last week -- see below for analysis -- but don't be deceived into thinking this settles courtroom challenges. Football remains in a legal quicksand that has the potential to drag the sport under. The big concern has never been the NFL, which has only a small number of current and retired players, and can buy its way out of any difficulty. The issue is the 3 million youth players, 1.1 million high school players and approximately 50,000 college players.
Related Update 2:  Apparently, the players wanted $2 billion, but decided to settle for a much smaller amount, as I noted below.  Here's an article that gives some insight as to why they took that option.  There's also an interesting video discussion from the ESPN experts at the link as well.

Related Update: The NFL and the massive former players' concussion-based lawsuit reached an out-of-court settlement today for $765 million dollars.  I certainly don't know the ins and outs of the case, but it seems to me that the big winners here were the NFL league itself, the owners, and the fans.  Given the stakes involved and the massive wealth of the league and the team owners,  $765 million seems like an extremely low number to settle for.  Consider that many, if not most, of the teams individually are worth more than the payoff figure; personally, I wouldn't have been surprised if the figure was $5 billion, spread over many years.  The fans, of course, won because a potentially lethal issue was peacefully resolved and not allowed to grow into something potentially larger than the game itself.
From a news account at FoxNews:
The NFL and more than 4,500 former players want to resolve concussion-related lawsuits with a $765 million settlement that would fund medical exams, concussion-related compensation and medical research, a federal judge said Thursday.
The plaintiffs include at least 10 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including former Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett. They also include Super Bowl-winning quarterback Jim McMahon and the family of Pro Bowl linebacker Junior Seau, who committed suicide last year.

Original Post:  Included in my Weekend links post this past Friday was an article highlighting some of the concerns about the direction the NFL is heading according to Bernard Pollard of the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens (Congrats to the Ravens!).  Here's an article that worries about the future of the NFL from a different angle, one that I think is absolutely a legitimate threat to league. Listen to author Steve Chapman: 
But football has a problem: the specter of mass brain damage among current and former players. So far, the steady trickle of disturbing revelations has had no apparent effect on ticket sales or TV ratings. What it has done, though, is more ominous: It has invited lawsuits.
It's not hard to imagine where things will end up if the lawsuits are successful.