26 May 2016

It is time to kill the NFL.

During Roman times the most popular sport in the land was participating in gladiator battles and citizens would sometimes volunteer for this "job". No doubt, only the most fit and well trained in fighting tactics had a chance of long term survival, but it paid extraordinarily well and made many (including women) famous throughout the land. Of course, we are far too civilized today to accept any sport that has a high percentage chance of killing someone. Or ... That is what we used to say before we discovered that the gladiator battles take place every Sunday.

You know where these words are leading. It is truly painful for me to type this article. I have been a huge fan of American football for as long as my memory permits. I have football posters on my basement walls. My family has had season tickets at college football games for decades and attended numerous bowl games. Whenever my favorite NFL team comes to town my brother and I would pop down to the Kingdome/Qwest/CenturyLink Field to watch. I started and managed a football fan website for a number of years. And despite my love for the sport, I now know that I have watched my last football game.

American football is killing people. Not instantly. It takes five, ten, twenty years after these young men retire from the sport. They are, essentially, not the same person they were due to repeated massive impacts. Some are smart enough to only play long enough to make some cash and then exit. Some exit early and still end up a statistic. Regardless, we know that the very nature of how this game is played - massive people hitting each other play after play after play - shortens their lives dramatically.

The human brain is a blob of Jello sitting in a shallow puddle of fluid. When your body has a massive change of direction that Jello smacks against the cranium. Since there are no pain sensors inside that coconut, we have no idea that it is being damaged. An occasional hit is not likely to cause long term damage, but a hundred times in a day? Week after week? It causes brain damage, a disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), that will have a long term neurological impact and potentially end in death.

How likely is a football player to find themselves with CTE? Of the 91 former football players that have been tested they have discovered 87 of them (over 95%) have CTE.

There is strong evidence that the National Football League first became aware of this problem in 1994 and started their campaign to hide it. They make over 7 billion dollars a year and are in charge of the most popular sport in the richest country in the world. How many parents of the next generation of athletes would allow little Johnny to play a sport that is as dangerous as boxing? The NFL continues to do everything in their power to make it look like they are helping (supposedly donating tens of millions of dollars to research) while simultaneously dismissing the danger.

Even after public acknowledgement of the dangers, even after rule changes to the game, even after Nike makes billions from selling safer sports gear - the bottom line is that the NFL has spent the past two decades hiding this problem from the public and, more critically, the players that has made them so rich. The National Football League has knowingly been profiting off of these kids that were, unknowingly, sacrificing their long term health.

There is still considerable research that needs to be done on whether there is a safe way to play America's favorite sport. Until we know the answer, parents should exclude their children from participating. Colleges should consider dramatic safety measures (flag football, anyone?) or indefinitely suspend the game until professionals can determine how it can be played safely. And while the health prognosis of football players is still unclear, what should be clear is the long term health of the organization that gambled the brains of our kids: The NFL needs to be abolished.

My heartfelt thanks to all of the football players that made this game so exciting to watch.