Perspective: NFL Must Do More to Protect Players

by Noah Bair ‘24

Year after year, the NFL goes through dozens of controversies that span from the criticism of referees to the league’s racist hiring practices to people arguing that the league is “rigged.” And year after year, many of these controversies are largely forgotten and ignored so long as the fan can watch games in front of their television every Sunday. In the age of fantasy football and sports betting, many players are deified and solely seen as a few pixels on a screen that can give fans a boost of dopamine when players score. But, everyone needs to be more aware that behind every helmet and jersey is a person who is potentially cutting years off their life and risking lifelong health problems in exchange for a few years of playing football. 

The average American is not blind to these issues. A recent survey showed that one in four people agreed with the sentiment that football is “too violent” and one in three people consider football “too dangerous a sport for young people to play.” If we can agree that tackle football is too violent for children, why are we simply accepting the fact that the NFL sends out a thousand young men every week to the field with the risk of brain injuries

To help combat this rising issue, the NFL has crafted a number of possible solutions including penalties for hits using the helmet and testing the idea of removing kickoffs where defensive players run at kick returners at full speed. One includes the introduction of guardian caps, a protective layer that goes outside of a player’s helmet, giving another way to protect players from head injuries. The players that wore these caps saw a decrease in concussions by 50 percent during pre-season practices. There is no reason for the NFL to not implement guardian caps for game use. If they’re proven to make the game safer, what’s the league waiting for?

Not only does the league have to worry about current players getting concussions, but many former players have voiced concerns about cognitive issues long after they’ve finished playing. A group of ten former players sued the league last month, claiming that they were denied injury benefits after their retirement, and that the NFL’s practice of dealing with injuries was unlawful. The lawsuit claimed that doctors paid by the NFL were more likely to be given a higher salary if they diagnosed few injuries. One example showed that one doctor that diagnosed twenty more injuries in a former player was paid $18,000 less the next year than a doctor who diagnosed no injuries. 

Even though the league is clearly putting resources into protecting current players, as the league has now implemented rules that require that there be at least thirty medical professionals at each game, they’re not doing enough for retired players. A recent study by Boston University showed that out of 367 former players, 345, or almost 92 percent, were diagnosed with Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE in players causes countless cognitive issues such as memory loss, confusion, and depression. There is currently no treatment or cure for CTE.

If the NFL wants to retain a good image in the eyes of players, fans, and owners, more must be done to protect player safety. Sixteen years ago, former Eagles safety Andre Water committed suicide at the age of 44. Brain scans showed that he suffered from CTE, with a doctor quoting that “Football killed him.” This should’ve set off an alarm for the league, and the fact that little to nothing has been done to help players after they’re done earning money for the league in their playing days is unacceptable. There is potential for the NFL to enforce more precautions to make football a safer sport for players, but in its current state, the NFL is ultimately unsafe as it causes injuries that last a lifetime and pose a risk to players’ lives.