The movie “Concussion” opens Christmas Day. It deals with ex-NFL players being diagnosed with a disease similar to Alzheimer’s due to chronic concussions.
Also on Tuesday the NFL pulled out of funding a concussion study at Boston University — through the National Institute of Health — because the lead researcher, Dr. Robert Stern, a prominent BU researcher has been critical of the league and its dealing with head trauma.
Let me preface this post by saying that there are few more passionate football fans than me. I live and breathe by the fate of the NY Jets. I have had this passion since Joe Namath ran off the field in Miami’s Orange Bowl in January 1970. It was the first bet I ever won for a $1.00 against a friend of my father’s.
That said. This season may be the apex for the NFL.
In ten years — perhaps less — NFL football will be out of business as we know it today. It sounds impossible given its popularity, but pro football cannot survive as it is now.
The forces against pro football are mounting, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s moves to maximize profits for the owner, which is the role of the commissioner since the beginning, is taking the game into dangerous arenas.
Yes he is milking TV broadcasters for every last penny, but in economics and markets no chart goes straight up. In order to provide revenue growth to its owners the NFL has picked every piece of low hanging fruit, and now has to enter areas that have questionable upside monetarily. The fantasy football scenario is the first initiative that takes the game — along with some powerful owners — into a gray area that can hurt the game.
Look at Disney’s stock. The company releases the biggest movie ever in “Star Wars”, yet all analysts and investors are focused on is that ESPN — the NFL’s newest cash cow — is losing subscribers who do not wish to pay extra to view games.
Playing Thursday night games in different uniforms — which are not the throw-back type — in the name of selling more jerseys has seen push back from fans and critics.
Expanding internationally is dilutive not additive.
But Goddell is up against it. He needs to get the cash now. He and the owners know that there is a dreaded court ruling coming very soon on the league’s liability on concussions and brain damage for former players.
I would venture a guess that there is no favorable report at the NFL’s Park Ave headquarters on the state of the game in 2025?
Here are some of the major hurdles the league is facing:
- Medical intervention: We are just seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to brain damage and the ability of NFL to cover up its prevalence of concussions within the game.
- Football culture: These athletes have been coddled and provided for since high school for most. The actions of these athletes both on and off the field are now making news headlines for the horrendous acts. Rage and abhorrent behavior, moving toward a pro wrestling culture in order to be recognized by fans will backfire as players ramp up their antics.
- Political correctness: The crippling of athletes as the only way to get ahead in life will be vilified. As more and more college players lose their scholarships because of injury and the upcoming decision of whether college players are employees of the college will crimp the production line of players likely to play for the NFL.
- Lack of supply: There are tens of thousands of football fields in the US that do not see a game played on anymore. Parents are voting for their children’s sports team choices before they play sports in middle school. They are telling their children to play soccer, lacrosse and even rugby. As this goes forward schools can’t field a football team and so they use the field for soccer or lacrosse in the fall.
- Madison Ave.: You are already seeing advertisers moving away from using pro athletes in their campaigns. As Peyton Manning moves quickly to retirement, who will be the face of the NFL for national advertisers? Not Tom Brady or Drew Brees. Yes you have a handful of companies that are in love with pro football and as of now the league still delivers a desirable demographic, but where are today’s “heroes” to build a future that Madison Ave can invest in so it’s not so easy for them to walk away should the public begin to turn away?
Many will say that this proposition is crazy and cannot happen. I would point to another sacred cow that has been vilified — after 45 years of service — in a nanosecond.
Look at Penn State, where a statue on campus of its great football coach Joe Paterno was taken down in similar fashion to the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s monument in Iraq during the Gulf War over an assistant coach’s criminal behavior.
Today public opinion — rightly or wrongly — swings with speed of light as the Web gives detractors a distribution model unparalleled in history. One player brutally crippled — like Darryl Stingley — by a flagrant foul will create a meme on Facebook that can mark the two-minute warning for the game before “60 Minutes” is over on Sunday night.
So enjoy the games this season, because this is another American tradition that will soon go by the wayside.