The NFL’s Real Problem

The eventual demise of the NFL isn’t going to come as the result of players abusing women, getting busted for drug possession, endangering children or any other desultory offense; it’s going to come as the result of this:

The National Football League, which for years disputed evidence that its players had a high rate of severe brain damage, has stated in federal court documents that it expects nearly a third of retired players to develop long-term cognitive problems and that the conditions are likely to emerge at “notably younger ages” than in the general population.

Just how big is the difference between NFL players and the general population. Well the NYT article paints a pretty gruesome picture.

 Their calculations showed that players younger than 50 had an 0.8 percent chance of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia, compared with less than 0.1 percent for the general population. For players ages 50 to 54, the rate was 1.4 percent, compared with less than 0.1 percent for the general population. The gap between the players and the general population grows wider with increasing age.

Keep in mind that we’re at the front end of research into the effect of concussions and other types of sports brain injuries on participants. Next to nothing is known about the cumulative effect of brain trauma beginning with early participation in sports in which it may occur. In fact, that NFL players experience such profound effects hasn’t ben shown to occur as a result solely of their participation at the professional level. It just happens to be the most convenient deep pocket to (justifiably?) reach into, and the most proximate activity with which to link cause and effect. Unknown, at this point in time, is if individuals who participate in football and other high contact sports but who do not go on to play in the pros might not be subject as well to similar increased risks.

I enjoy  watching football very much, though I tend to prefer the college game. Given the evidence, I don’t see how it survives in any form which resembles its current popularity. Concern about brain damage, whether warranted or not, among parents and potential participants, combined with a very fat liability tail aren’t conditions favorable to long-term success.

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