Are You Not Entertained?

Sports Illustrated ran an article this week about former NFL players who, frankly, aren\’t doing very well. Carson Palmer, earlier this year, stated that his opinion was that someone would eventually die on the field. Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article about the alarming rate of concussions among football players, and a link from that to dementia. Gladwell, in a recent chat with ESPN\’s Bill Simmons, also had this to say about the NFL:

\”Yes, football has kind of been ruined for me, I\’m afraid. Understand that I live for the game. But I\’m increasingly of the opinion that it is screwed up — on a moral level — in a way that no other professional sport is.

Think about it. The league has a salary cap (which limits players\’ pay), minimal health insurance for retirees and no guaranteed contracts. In other words, the owners reserve the right to limit the pool of money available to players, to walk away from contracts whenever they please and then hold no long-term responsibility for the health of the players whose contracts they have limited and declined to honor. Coal miners aren\’t treated this badly. And now we strongly suspect a fourth fact: that some significant percentage of ex-players, as a direct result of playing professional football, will suffer from dementia in their 40s and 50s, in addition to all the known and significant other health risks of the game (severe arthritis, substantially elevated risk of heart disease, etc.).\”

Gladwell finishes that exchange by wondering at what point does it become morally shaky to support an industry with these kinds of known negatives. Don\’t get me wrong – I enjoy watching football – but a part of me agrees with him. Playing football takes years off the players\’ lives, and takes away the quality of life of what\’s left. Yes, some of the players make substantial money, but at what sum is that \’worth it\’? The league minimum salary this year is $310,000. Is that worth it? And this is only for the minimal percentage of players who actually make it to the NFL. What about the vast majority of college players who get hit just as hard for four years and reap no financial reward?

Obviously, football\’s not going away any time soon. Are there rule changes that would help prevent some of this? I don\’t know. I know I would watch the game if there were less hitting, but I wonder if there is a certain segment of people who wouldn\’t – who are just watching to see if, like in a NASCAR race, someone hits the wall.

Perhaps Robert Byrd could have expanded his focus to include the other sport here, too:







5 responses to “Are You Not Entertained?”

  1. wadE Avatar

    My gut reaction (without taking a lot of time to digest) is: no one is forcing people to play football.
    There are some good points about: not taking care of their own, salary cap, new data on long term health. But the players have a union. If the union feels they are getting a raw deal they have an opportunity to address that very soon.

  2. alex Avatar

    No? Parents don’t sign their kids up to play youth football? Kids aren’t psychologically rewarded for playing well? This doesn’t get them hooked? You’re right, of course, but it’s not entirely the point, either. Also, like I said, I’m NOT just talking about those fairly well-rewarded NFL players. The evidence suggests that playing college football could be just as dangerous. It’s just something to think about.

  3. alex Avatar

    Just to be clear. My point is that *I’m* a little unsettled, knowing these facts, watching men (and college kids) perform an activity that has such a good possibility of so affecting their lives.

  4. monkey Avatar

    wadE: yes, this is why unions exist. Nobody forced folks to work in appalling and dangerous conditions in mines and garment factories, but… Here’s a question: Do rugby players get injuries, concussions, and lifelong medical troubles at the same rate as American football players? Fire up (if you get it) and watch a rugby match. The tackling style is radically different… because they’re not wearing pads. Food for thought? (alex: who was the hockey player who wouldn’t let his kids play b/c the kids were required to wear helmets, and he felt that the false sense of security opened up more problems than it solved?)
    Yes, this stuff takes the shine off the game for me too. I don’t want to see no-contact hockey or de-violenced football, but… there’s gotta be a safer middle ground, right?

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