On the issues of human rights, the NFL and justice for our football players

(TFC) – It’s no secret that the NFL is in distress. League ratings fell by more than 10% this past fall, the product of a public disgusted by money-hungry league officials. On top of that, player health has taken center stage in multiple controversies, with stories of concussions and drug abuse making regular appearances in the media.

The question is can the NFL brook this deluge of bad press? Rumors of professional footballers barring their children from pursuing a career in the sport are unavoidable, and attendance is down across the league because of the failing quality of recent competitions. Could we be witnessing the United States turning away from football, or is this just a temporary issue?

Head Problems

Negative press is one thing, but the sure way to drive the league under is to deny it the new blood that is required to keep teams on the turf. The NFL’s high-profile concussion problem undoubtedly plays a part in the fact that fewer youth athletes are becoming interested in football.

If you’re a football fan, you’re almost certainly familiar with the way that multiple concussions have been associated with the development of CTE, a brain condition that leads to severe debilitation.

Studies have connected the condition to multiple former NFL stars, many of whom have been driven to suicide by the disease. In a tragic example of this, late San Diego Charger Junior Seau even made efforts to have his brain preserved after death, so that doctors could better understand the disease. It’s a frightening reality, one that even the sizable paycheck that comes with an NFL contract can’t detract from.

Pain Management

What’s worse, if the head trauma doesn’t kill you, the drug use could. This isn’t the recreational drug abuse that once plagued the Dallas Cowboys — that’s a correctable issue and one that the players alone can be held responsible for.

To ensure that they can give 100% on the field come game time, many organizations use pain killers to help players play through pain. Recently, the league has seen a rash of use of the drug Toradol, an anti-inflammatory that is similar to ibuprofen in small doses, but available in much stronger form as an injection.

The price of playing through the pain? Life-changing liver damage. Former Steelers lineman Chris Kemoeatu was forced to seek a liver transplant as a young man, and this is only one of many drug-fueled issues that players are citing as necessary evils if they want to keep their starting positions.

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A Comedy of Errors

Rule changes have been made to protect franchise players like quarterbacks, but there is only so much you can do to make a contact sport less physical. No amount of new stadiums and Super Bowl halftime shows will make a disgruntled public come back to the sport.

The combination of a perturbed fan base and lack of new players could be a killer combination for the NFL. Yes, many teams have strong followings that aren’t going to turn their back so quickly. Perhaps not in five years, or even in ten, but where will the organization be twenty years from now?

The Path Back to Good

To combat a potentially disastrous outcome, the NFL needs to perform two difficult tasks. First, it must demonstrate some compassion as an organization. It’s no secret how profitable the NFL is, people have only so much patience for an operation that is pure profit to insult its own employees.

Secondly, safety must improve. New technologies and rules will be required to quiet the rash of CTE episodes seen in former players, which will prove difficult as we become more aware of the condition as a community.

It wouldn’t hurt if the games became more fun to watch again, either.