Should Football Be Fundamentally Changed to Make It Safer?
Sunday marks one of the biggest events in American sports, the Super Bowl, with the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers facing off in New Orleans. Though the game is likely to be one of the most-watched events of the year, it comes at time when the National Football League is dealing with increasing scrutiny about the danger of the sport.
A number of scandals and tragedies have plagued football in recent years. Last year, the New Orleans Saints were found to have sponsored a "bounty" program for its players, with players winning cash prizes for injuring opponents. The NFL suspended Sean Payton, the Saints' head coach, without pay for a year, and enacted similar punishment on players and coaching staff involved, but many critics believe the penalty was not enough and worry that similar bounty programs exist at other teams.
Recent studies have also found that NFL players suffer from neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's at a rate three times greater than the general population. A number of high profile tragedies also reflected the dangerous toll football takes on the brain. Former NFL linebacker Junior Seau shot himself in the chest, leaving a suicide note asking that his brain be studied for science. Kansas City Chief's Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend before shooting himself in the team practice facility. Another study found that the suicide rate among NFL players to be six times the national average. That goes without saying the wear and tear football takes on other parts of the body.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said that the league is very concerned with player safety. The NFL donated $30 million for brain injury research to the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health. It has also changed some of its rules to make the game more safe, like the so called "Steelers rule," which will punish teams for players who commit multiple flagrant hits. However some fans, and even some of the players, have objected to this and other rule changes, saying it is making football "too soft." Nevertheless, even President Obama joined the chorus of those concerned about the game's safety, telling The New Republic, "I think that those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence."
Should football be fundamentally changed to make it safer? Here is the Debate Club's take: