BY OWEN SANBORN
A lightly-scaled wide receiver sits in his stance awaiting for his quarterback to set the play in motion. As the quarterback croaks, the receiver does a quick do-si-do to sidestep his defender at the line of scrimmage before penetrating the heart of the defense via his patented slant route. Just as the quarterback leads the receiver with a pass, a 250-pound wildebeest awaits, waiting to launch all of his force towards his impending target.
For much of my childhood, as well as the generations of yesteryear, this sort of defensive playmaking used to be a celebrated part of the glorious game on the gridiron. The crooked nature of taking pleasure out of a significant blow to the head was commonplace and generally regarded as an encouraged part of the sport of football. It was awed at; an expected reality for any receiver who dared to venture over the middle of the field.
Nowadays, the NFL has taken strides to do away with this defensive tactic, coming down on players with hefty fines and worthwhile suspensions to crack down on defenders that take advantage of “defenseless receivers.” To combat their dwindling image, the implementation of new tackling techniques and changing the mindset of athletes at a grassroots level has been a direct initiative of the NFL over the last decade. Each of these pursuits have been hotly debated and under a watchful eye from the general public as a steamy concussion lawsuit from 2013 payed out former players with a $765 million settlement, per the New York Times.
As time has progressed, the viewing experience of an NFL game has changed; conforming from elation to despair. I no longer cheer or take solace when I see a big hit take place on another player. Instead, I cringe and veer my head away from the action with the hope that the offended player will be able to move under his own power.
Interestingly, there are some profound parallels between the NFL (when it comes to concussions) and the tobacco industry. Each conglomerate rakes in pools of money due to its immense popularity, yet beneath the surface, something smells. Tobacco companies have notoriously underwhelmed scientific findings that prove their product creates hazardous health concerns that can reach the stages of life-threatening. Could the NFL be doing the same with concussions?
In another New York Times article, a group of journalists talked about an investigation that found the NFL suppressed an internal investigation in correspondence to the study of head trauma from concussions. Two teams — the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers — reported that their players had suffered no concussions during the investigated time frame (spanning six seasons for the Cowboys and four for the 49ers).
Those claims proved to be futile as the star quarterbacks for each respective team (Troy Aikman for Dallas and Steve Young for San Francisco) had each suffered multiple concussions during the investigated span. Surprisingly, the weekly team injury reports even said as much when you look back at them.
What was the NFL trying to hide by not being completely open with the public and their players about the scientific study? Were they negligent in their reporting of how a concussion can brutally reduce the quality of your life after football? Are there still plenty of things that both the public and participants of football are not aware of?
Yes and yes. The NFL is operating and has operated for years under the scope of an organization that: a) has something to hide and b) will protect their “shield” at all costs. Their handling of domestic violence issues over the last half-decade punctuates their lack of wherewithal for dealing with a messy situation that could sacrifice the bottom line of the league.
At the end of the day, do all of these issues with concussions and head trauma even matter? Despite the arising issues, the ratings and thirst for games continues to soar to new heights, simultaneously inflating the league’s bottomline along with it. Football has swiftly become America’s universal language thanks to the overwhelming prominence of fantasy football and other social factors. Quite simply, you feel left out if you do not take part in spending your Sunday afternoons watching football.
The NFL has been negligent in its reporting of head injuries and may in fact still be, but we are the ones that created this behemoth. And only we have the power to take it down.