We’ve all taken our eyes off the ball
By: Jay Fraga
While the sports world stands trivially transfixed with Richard Sherman’s NFC Championship post-game interview, lawyers on both sides of the recently-denied-for-preliminary-approval NFL Concussion Settlement scurry around in relative obscurity. With the sheer outrage mustered toward Sherman’s antics, one would think that America’s Game is being threatened. Once again, we’re proving as a nation that we are easily distracted.
America’s Game IS being threatened- but it’s not being threatened by Richard Sherman’s interview decorum. America’s Game is being threatened by a sub-par settlement, chiseled out by the bean counters and face savers at the NFL as well as a handful of plaintiff attorneys, who will take a sizeable sum of the bounty for their own coffers rather than forward it to deserving players. Worse yet, the settlement is based on troublesome language that calls to question just which players might qualify for medical benefits under it (for more detail on that, Patrick Hruby’s January 14th article is good reading).
America’s Game is being threatened by the National Football League’s sleight of hand; their propensity to speak and act out of both sides of their mouth in terms of past, present, and future player safety. America’s game is being threatened by a disingenuous settlement that allows for the clean wiping of a very dirty slate. It also allows for the wiping of the future slate.
In short, America’s Game is being threatened by the very people who run it.
What’s worse is that a significant majority of fans view the Concussion Settlement in a detached fashion. Reactions range from, “Those guys knew what they were getting into” to outright disinterest. For now, I’ll spare the full diatribe about the fallacy of believing that id-driven professional caliber athletes in their early twenties somehow have crystal balls that enable them to look into the future, see themselves kneeling in front of the toilet, and praying for death as they fight off the unimaginable symptoms of post-concussion syndrome. As a BMX racer, I never envisioned that future reality for myself. But, it happened.
Hey, I said that I’d spare the “full diatribe” about that. I didn’t say that I’d avoid it completely.
What if I told you that how the NFL approaches (or, doesn’t approach) player safety directly impacts the health of the American public? Would you consider that?
If the NFL were actually to embrace the fact that, occupationally, a high amount of concussions occur under its watch, they’d be in a position to put all of their clout- financial and otherwise, into treatment methodologies. You might say, “But, wait- the NFL just helped to fund a six million dollar National Institutes of Health grant for CTE research. See! They’re helping!”
Hey, I said they’d be in a position to put all of their clout– financial and otherwise, into treatment methodologies. There’s a big difference between that and digging at the bottom of their pockets for Anquan Bolden’s yearly salary to give to research. In a given year, there are 1,760 players in the NFL. Six million dollars, unfortunately, is chump change in that scenario.
The failure of the NFL to attack this problem head-on is an issue for any person in the United States who will suffer a concussion. It’s not just a problem for players. The lack of emphasis by the League in terms of focusing on new treatment methodologies and proper concussion care for their players produces a significantly negative cascade on public health in the form of doctors everywhere who rely on antiquated and ineffective treatment techniques because of limited knowledge. If I had a nickel for every person suffering from persistent concussion symptoms who has told me that their doctors simply didn’t know how to treat them, I’d be a rich man. It took nine concussions racing bicycles before I found the right doctors who were in a position to help. It also took beating on doors left and right and a lot of work. This type of thing is common and people are falling by the wayside. Our general standards for concussion care are not uniform. And, they’re lacking. Now, I’m not suggesting that the NFL has a responsibility to take care of American citizens. But, they certainly have a responsibility to take care of their own employees. Doing so would pay dividends for all of us.
So, I ask this question: Has there been a better place for significant medical advancements in the last twenty years than on the battlefields of the wars that America has fought?
Wouldn’t the battlefield of the NFL turf, with its frequent collisions, be the best place to hone new concussion treatment technologies for players who put their bodies, and ultimately the rest of their lives, well-being, and their families’ well-being on the line? That answer seems pretty clear-cut to me. And, if the NFL threw their might into it, that knowledge would become common knowledge. It would spread to the doctors that treat all of us- the people who sit on couches and watch America’s Game every Sunday. It would spread to the doctors who treat our kids: our youth lacrosse, soccer, football, basketball, baseball players, and BMX racers. These are the people we hear from in droves who are affected by concussion and the astounding lack of quality care out there. Maybe, I would even see a month in which I didn’t get an email from a high school athlete who has post-concussion symptoms that are so bad that I have to talk them out of taking their life.
Concussions are not just a problem for professional football players. Concussions are a problem for all of us. If the NFL is allowed to wash their hands of the concussion issue with a token settlement, it isn’t just past, present, and future NFL players who will suffer; we will all suffer in the form of persistently antiquated concussion treatment techniques that could, but won’t be, expanded and honed on the football field on Sundays.