The problem is not the players, the problem is the league officials and the owners. It is very rare that you hear active players champion the cause of player safety. Rather, you hear this time and time again being promoted by Roger Goodell and league officials. Why? It’s all about the money. Yes, the data that is now coming out showing the long term effects NFL careers have taken on athletes has been a blow to the NFL’s image. High profile cases like Junior Seau have created brief media frenzies and concern from the general public, but never enough disgust to keep people from watching. No, what keeps people from watching is when their star players are hurt and their team stinks. The NFL, egged on by the owners, wants to protect its high value assets, primarily offensive skill position players and especially quarterbacks. The league is run by businessmen and this is first and foremost a business decision.
When you have teams signing quarterbacks for eight or nine figure contracts, these guys become too big to fail. Many of them will, but not until after they’ve been coddled by the league and their ownership. These guys are the face of their teams and the NFL. They sell jerseys, they sell tickets and they entice more people into watching their televised games. In short, they are revenue machines. Think about it, if Darrelle Revis was walking down the street how many people would recognize him? Not too many. But how about Mark Sanchez? His mug was ubiquitous even before the infamous butt fumble. The point is when these guys get knocked out of a game, or heaven forbid a season, the franchises and by default the NFL lose money. What if a star defensive end suffers a season ending injury on a cheap chop block from an offensive lineman? That’s a shame, but won’t be nearly as costly so the NFL is more likely to look the other way. That’s why there is an absurd amount of protection being given to offensive players, but little attention given to the safety of defensive players.
A better solution than completely altering the game is instead providing some sort of medical compensation program that will take care of players when they retire. That is what the employers of other high risk occupations like soldiers, cops, industrial union workers, firefighters, etc. do. You can only reduce risk so much without changing the nature of the job, so let the men do their job with the full knowledge of this risk but also the comfort that they will be taken care of afterwards. Right now the NFLPA has had to take on continuous and aggressive legal action, because the NFL does not want to pay the medical bills of the men who made their own inflated salaries possible. The league’s refusal to foot the check for long term medical issues incurred from playing related injuries is a disgrace. If they really cared about their players’ health they would be willing to share their billions, but they don’t because retired players are no longer making them money. If Goodell actually wants us to believe his concern is genuine then he needs to put his money where his mouth is by treating the players like people instead of cash cows. However, don’t expect this to happen any time soon because player safety is a euphemism for asset protection and taking care of retired players reduces profits. The problem is the NFL has morphed from a sport into a business, where that profit is king.