Wai Sallas on the failures of the NFL and why we won’t be watching the Super Bowl this year.
Just look at the gladiators, either debased men or foreigners, and consider the blows they endure! Consider how they who have been well-disciplined prefer to accept a blow than ignominiously avoid it! How often it is made clear that they consider nothing other than the satisfaction of their master or the people! Even when they are covered with wounds they send a messenger to their master to inquire his will. If they have given satisfaction to their masters, they are pleased to fall. What even mediocre gladiator ever groans, ever alters the expression on his face? Which one of them acts shamefully, either standing or falling? And which of them, even when he does succumb, ever contracts his neck when ordered to receive the blow?
St. Louis Rams Quarterback Case Keenum laid there on the turf, clutching his helmet. Seconds earlier, Baltimore Ravens Defensive Tackle had whipped the Rams quarterback around like a rag doll before throwing him to the ground, Keenum’s head bouncing violently off the field. When Guard Garrett Reynolds lent his hand to pick him up, Keenum could not transfer what his brain wanted him to do and use the muscles needed to rise from the ground. He was dead weight in Reynolds’ arm. In an attempt to counteract his current state, Keenum turned over hoping to use his hands and knees to rise. He collapsed back to the ground like a toddler learning to walk for the first time.
The broadcast team of Kenny Albert and Daryl Johnston did not show concern for Keenum. It’s the NFL, and hits and after affects like these happen frequently. Nothing was said when Keenum got back in the huddle, called the next play and collected the ball to try and lead his team to victory late in the fourth quarter with the game tied at 13. Keenum, two plays later would fumble after being sacked again, leading to a game-winning field goal for the Baltimore Ravens.
While one team ended the game in victory, it was clear players were still losing the battle of player safety and protection from the NFL.
It’s instances like this and a lack of action by the league and its owners, that have forced me to abandon a game I loved to watch. I don’t blame the players. I blame the league and its owners for failing the thousands of players whose lives are endangered on a daily basis. For me, I had reached my tipping point.
Long before Keenum looked like a drunk at Mardi Gras, I decided to stop watching football. I don’t know the exact moment where my decision was made, but sometime over the summer, I felt I needed to stop complaining and do something.
It wasn’t Deflategate, the NFL’s response to player safety, nor the league’s criminally slow response to domestic violence awareness. None of those singular instances finally made me throw up my arms and say that’s it, but rather a culmination. Like death by a thousand mosquito bites.
The NFL’s concussion protocol is a four-page document compiled by the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee, with input from the NFL Players Association, NFL Physicians Society and the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society.
It is clear, and lays out plans for education, physical and neurological testing. It also details standard protocol for game management of concussions.
If a player exhibits or reports signs of symptoms of concussion on the field and does not require emergent transport for more serious brain injury and/or cervical spine injury, he must be removed and evaluated by the Club medical team.
The Rams ignored this protocol and allowed Keenum to play two more plays despite visual evidence he had suffered a concussion.
Was protocol ignored because there was less than a minute to play, with the score tied?
While the NFL “investigated” the matter, the Rams were cleared of any wrong doing.
When a player breaks the rules, they are penalized on the field, sometimes fined off it, or suspended. When a franchise breaks the rules, many times there are no consequences.
Unless, of course it is Deflategate.
The NFL spent millions of dollars trying to prove the New England Patriots of lying and cheating at the end of last season. From January, 2015 to the present day, the NFL has used mis-direction, PR campaigns, internet trolling and a non-independent, independent investigator to try and “protect the integrity of the shield.”
Through it all, most intellectuals have stated the NFL’s case is flawed. As the months go on, it becomes clearer and clearer the NFL and its commissioner Roger Goodell have misrepresented the facts for their own personal vendetta.
It seems the “integrity of the shield” is not necessarily for the betterment of the league, but a shield of deniability and unaccountability of their own failings and misconduct.
The NFL’s biggest failure is in its response to CTE, or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. A progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as wells asymptomatic subconcussyve hits to the head.
The connection between football and CTE is as transparent and obvious as the speed and violence for which the game is played. It seems the league, however, is still very much tone deaf on the issue and the severity for which it entails.
One only has to look at the National Football Foundation awards banquet last December to get an idea of how little the NFL and Roger Goodell actually think of the dangers of concussion.
According to a PBS published report, NFL players sustained “271 concussions in practices, preseason and regular season games in 2015 an increase of 31.6 percent over 2014.”
Head injuries in regular season games alone surged 58.2 percent.
These numbers are based on team reports. Who knows how many are out there who were left either unnoticed or hidden under the proverbial rug. Who knows how many were disguised to muddle the severity of the game of football.
What hasn’t gone unnoticed is the number of retired football players who have been diagnosed with CTE.
The numbers keep rising, from Hall of Famers like Frank Gifford and Junior Seau to regional heroes like Tony Dorsett and Kenny Stabler. The roll call of those affected is a depressing list. A stark reminder of how dangerous the game is and what little is being done by the league to change the fatal outcome that will meet many of the players playing today.
For years, the NFL’s players have been looked as warriors or gladiators. The athletically gifted, putting it all on the line for glory. As more and more former NFL players die, and more research is done, the link between gladiators of Rome and football players is starting to slant to a more disconcerting fashion. Men risking their lives for fame, fortune, admiration of men and women, and freedom.
So what is the NFL doing to identify concussions, CTE and help prevent these debilitating injuries?
Just recently, the NFL backed out of a seven-year, $16-million initiative that was supposed to be funded by a $30 million research grant the NFL gave the National Institutes of Health.
What the NFL declined to confirm but is easy to imply is the league chose to back out because they didn’t have control over the outcome of the study. The project’s group leader, Dr. Robert Stern, has been critical of the league.
Like any Public Relations firm, the NFL knows the best way to keep things positive and maintain popularity is to control the rhetoric and narrative. What better way to do that than to acknowledge CTE, but stop short of providing a link. Initiate a concussion protocol, but do nothing to curb what’s causing it, or penalize those who fail to make the game safer.
In a press conference leading up the Super Bowl, Dr. Mitchel Berger, a member of the league’s head, neck and spine committee, repeated the league’s contention that there is no definitive link between football and CTE.
ESPN’s Outside the Lines released a report saying the league was providing significant money using grants from a “secretive funding apparatus with its own set of rules that often rewards league doctors, punishes critics, and steer research away from potentially uncomfortable truths about the relationship between football and brain disease.”
Control the narrative.
At Goodell’s state-of-the-league press conference a reporter pointed out that seven high-school football players died this past season as a result of injuries sustained in games or practices. Goodell was then asked if he still felt comfortable with parents encouraging their children to play football.
Goodell called the high-school deaths “tragic” and defended his league’s work in developing better coaching and better tackling techniques. This, despite many people pointing out the flaws in the NFL and USA Youth Football’s training practices. Or, that many feel there is no way to make the game safer. Football is a collision sport, not a contact sport.
“From my standpoint, I played football for nine years through high school and I wouldn’t give up a single day of that,” he said.
“If I had a son, I’d love to have him play the game of football because of the values you get. There’s risk in life. There’s risk in sitting on the couch.”
In the words of the National Football League comissioner, be careful of that dangerous couch. To be honest, former President George W. Bush almost died choking on a pretzel while sitting on the couch watching a game, so maybe we have to form a committee to research the dangers of being a couch potato.
Control the narrative.
The Associated Press conducted a survey last month of 100 NFL players. Fewer than half, 47, surveyed said they think the league’s club, coaches and team doctors have the athletes’ best interest at heart when it comes to health and safety. In addition to that, 39 players said their interests don’t always come first, while another 14 said they weren’t sure or refused to respond.
More and more players are retiring early out of health fears. In January, one of the NFL’s best receivers, Calvin Johnson retired early, at age 30, amidst concerns for his future. Last year, standout rookie Chris Borland retired after learning about CTE.
It’s easy for fans to see these players make millions of dollars and rationalize they know the risks. The questions I had to ask myself is do I want to support a league and a sport who is not making significant grounds to curb the eventual deaths of the players I cheer for? Would I accept millions of dollars for a few years knowing I would live forever with pain, and the threat of dementia was almost imminent?
I wouldn’t. I hope my son doesn’t.
For the 22 weeks, while the rest of America sold out stadiums and glued themselves to the television, I found myself with a new found freedom and a luxury I had taken for granted.
My wife and I took a trip to Italy for two weeks in October, missing weeks 3,4 and 5 of the NFL season. As a family, we took our two-year-old to the beach on unseasonably warm fall Sundays. We explored the city around us while everyone else stayed indoors watching America’s game. We expanded our child’s imagination with trips to the zoo, the aquarium and nature hikes around town. By November, sitting down watching the NFL for 8 hours seemed like such a far-fetch, inconceivable waste of time. It was astonishing to think I could do that, let alone want to do that.
My friends still don’t understand. They still love the game, and I don’t dislike them for it. How far away are we however, from mimicking the days of ancient Rome? How far away are we from being spectators in the arena of bloodshed and death?
For those who think that’s taking it too far, ask yourself how many former NFL players must be diagnosed with CTE or dementia before you start to question? How many suicides by NFL players must you read about before you wonder about the game you love?
For the NFL, the “locomotive” is impenetrable and unstoppable. Despite two years of continuous controversies, the game only gets more and more popular. Thanks to the 24-hour news cycle, any bad publicity is quickly replaced with the game-winning touchdown, or the excitement of the playoff race. The NFL is teflon. Too big to fail.
As for me, I’m not rooting for the death of football. I’m hoping for a greater game, putting more emphasis on the players who risk their lives every Sunday.
On Super Bowl Sunday, I’ll be flying over the Pacific Ocean, completing a two week vacation in Hawaii. While the rest of the world will be sitting down to celebrate the most popular television day of the year, we will be celebrating our 22 perfect Sundays …
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