The NFL Can't Make Football Safer
Despite all the attention, there's very little the NFL can do to actually make football safer
February 1, 2013
The NFL is facing a crisis rooted in the fact that, despite their efforts to hide the truth from our lying eyes, we all now know too much. Fans and players are now more aware than ever before that playing the game can lead to catastrophic brain injuries. Early onset-Alzheimer's, dementia, and ALS can be seen as possible by-products of the sport. Suicides of former players are now a feature of the sports page.
An even bigger problem is that despite all the rule changes, the heavier fines, and the attention, there is actually very little that the NFL can do to make the sport much safer. The problem is that tackle football is like a cigarette: You can have one with a bigger filter or less tar but the stubborn truth is that there is no such thing as a safe cigarette, just as there is no such thing as a safe football game. The future of the sport will probably be that it will be less popular as casual fans drift away repulsed by the violence, much as they drifted away from boxing once we all saw the deterioration in real-time of heroes like Muhammad Ali. That means fewer viewers, less money, but also a smaller talent pool.
This past year, three dynamic rookies, Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, and Russell Wilson, all come from solid middle class homes. In the future, these are exactly the kind of young people whose parents will steer them away from the sport. In the past year, one million fewer children signed up for youth tackle football in the United States. The future of the sport is grim, and the more we learn, the less safe if will be perceived to be.