Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Violence and injuries threaten NFL's future success

  • Print

By almost any measure, the National Football League is enjoying another extraordinary year. During the 17-week NFL regular season, the 22 highest-rated shows on television were NFL games. And roughly 155 million people, or half the U.S. population, are expected to watch at least some of Super Bowl on Sunday.

So it is with good reason that owners and league officials gathering in New Orleans this weekend should be in good cheer. The NFL, in the parlance of business, is killing it.

Underneath the glitter and spectacle, however, the NFL's $9-billion business faces a significant long-term threat. With scientific studies increasingly linking head injuries with degenerative brain diseases, fans and young people could turn away from the sport, and lawsuits already filed by former players could result in huge liabilities.

To its credit, the league appears to recognize the risks. Under commissioner Roger Goodell, it has taken a series of safety-related steps in the face of carping by players, ex-players and commentators who say the sport is being sissified.

The league is right to impose new penalties and fines on violent hits. It is right to punish participants in a bounty system that rewarded players for injuring their opponents. It is right to insist players with concussions aren't rushed back on to the field. And it is right to consider further changes to the rules and to explore new helmet technologies.

These are the types of things responsible franchise owners do to protect their people and businesses.

Baltimore Ravens safety Bernard Pollard had things backwards when he said the NFL could be gone in 30 years as the result of unpopular new rules. The biggest threat to the NFL is not that hard-core fans will turn away because of these rules, but that more marginal fans will turn away because of the violence the rules are meant to address.

Football already has a reputation as a kind of crapshoot, with injuries playing a major role in teams' fortunes and players' long-term health. It might soon earn the reputation as a sport young athletes in much of the country avoid. U.S. President Barack Obama says if he had sons, he'd hesitate to let them play football, a view shared by millions of parents across America.

These are not developments consistent with football remaining "America's game." And if a player dies as the result of an on-field injury -- something not unthinkable given the size and speed of today's players and the glorification of bone-jarring hits, which on rare occasions have left players paralyzed -- the game would go through a period of soul-searching.

While a downturn in football's popularity as the result of its violent nature might seem far-fetched, the same could have been said about boxing. Once one of the nation's premier sports, boxing is now regarded as a brutal niche.

As the NFL community gathers for the Super Bowl, it has every reason to be happy about the incredible success of its undertaking. But it is also appropriately worried about what might lie over the horizon. Owners would be wise to consider the counsel their coaches often give their players: Just because you are successful now doesn't mean you should take your future success for granted.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 2, 2013 A15

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Gail Asper says museum honours her father’s vision

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • An American White Pelican takes flight from the banks of the Red River in Lockport, MB. A group of pelicans is referred to as a ‘pod’ and the American White Pelican is the only pelican species to have a horn on its bill. May 16, 2012. SARAH O. SWENSON / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
  • A goose heads for shade in the sunshine Friday afternoon at Woodsworth Park in Winnipeg - Day 26– June 22, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Should the Canadian Museum for Human Rights use the word 'genocide' in exhibits on Indian residential schools?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google