The NFL: A Disability Factory for Young Men

The NFL showcases brutality and player collisions in its promotions, while minimizing the human toll it takes on NFL players' health and safety

The NFL showcases brutality and player collisions in its promotions, while minimizing the human toll it takes on NFL players’ health and safety

As of January 23, 2013, the National Football League (NFL) is facing 199 lawsuits filed by a total of more than 4,000 retired professional football players who suffered head injuries while playing for the NFL. In June, 2012, the lawsuits of about three thousand of those injured players were consolidated into a single Master Complaint (pdf) which charges that the NFL was negligent and committed fraud because it was “aware of the evidence and risks associated with repetitive traumatic brain injuries…but deliberately ignored and actively concealed the information” from players and others involved in NFL football. The lawsuit says that to promote the game, the NFL glorifies the brutality and ferocity of NFL football by “lauding and mythologizing the most brutal and ferocious of players and collisions,” while simultaneously fraudulently representing that getting hit and putting big hits on others is a badge of courage, and does not seriously threaten one’s health. The suit charges that to heighten this belief and further promote football,  NFL Films, a PR instrument of the NFL, creates and markets videos that focus solely on the hardest hits that occur on the fields. One television critic described NFL Films as “the greatest in-house P.R. machine in pro sports history.” NFL’s videos glorify the violent nature of pro football by putting a special focus on player collisions of the type that cause players the most harm. The NFL gives its films names like “NFL: Moment of Impact,” “NFL’s 100 Greatest Tackles,” “Big Blocks and King Size Hits,” “the NFL’s Greatest Hits” and “Crunch Masters.” The films intentionally minimize the acute and chronic risks associated with the head trauma players routinely sustain in these collisions. According to the lawsuit, the NFL even fined some players for illegal and dangerous hits, and then turned around and profited by selling photos of the illegal hits on its website for $54.95 to $249.95. A study done on 3,439 retired NFL players by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that retired NFL players have triple the risk of the general population of dying from incurable degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson disease, or Lou Gherig’s disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Statistics show NFL players become disabled only a few years after finishing their careers, and that brain injuries aren’t the only dangers NFL players face. Besides concussions and brain trauma-related problems, former NFL players also suffer high rates of early-onset arthritis, chronic body pain, lower physical functioning and depression.  The average retirement age for NFL players is 30 years, and the average age when players tend to file disability claims is just 38 years. What’s more, the numbers of disabled former NFL players are starting to pile up.  A database of all of the known concussion lawsuits filed so far, showing the players, the teams they played for, the dates of their careers, the positions they played and other information is available here.

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