NFL concussion settlement allows us to claim ignorance of what we suspect to be true

Saturday is a big day in my neighborhood for youth sports. And it’s football season. Finally. Parents — bless their “anything you want, dear” hearts — are carting the kids off to football practice. Down at the high school up the street, the team is practicing. In Minneapolis this week, parents rebelled when the kids had to sit in 90-degree classrooms for their book learning, but several were aghast when after-school activities were canceled because the football team had a big game on Friday night and had to “be ready.” There’s no indication the kids who were playing felt a similar urgency.

And in office cubicle after office cubicle this week, workers kept one eye out to make sure the boss wasn’t coming and one eye on the computer screen where their fantasy football draft was being documented. In most cases, we suspect, the boss wasn’t anyone to worry about. He/she was in his/her office, drafting this year’s squad.

Against that backdrop this week, the NFL paid $765 million in get-lost money to former players who, if they’re still alive, will be able to celebrate every 10 minutes, because their short term memory is so bad they’ll need to be told again and again that they’re in the money.

This is the world of football that kids, their parents, and the people in the cubicles depend on but refuse to acknowledge.

This paragraph from the Associated Press story today is particularly nauseating:

Under the settlement, individual awards would be capped at $5 million for men with Alzheimer’s disease; $4 million for those diagnosed after their deaths with a brain condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy; and $3 million for players with dementia, said lead plaintiffs’ lawyer Christopher Seeger.

The NFL said it would also kick in $10 million for “research,” big spenders that they are. The league makes $10 billion a year.

Let’s face it: Most of us love football. It’s the national pastime. If someone ends up with Alzheimer’s, or shoots themselves (in the chest, of course, so their brain can still be studied), it’s a price we’re willing to have someone else pay. “They knew what they were getting into,” we’ll tell ourselves,except when the kids grab their helmets and equipment, and ask for a ride to the nearest field on a Saturday morning.

The settlement, Slate’s Daniel Engber suggests, will allow us all to claim “we didn’t know” what we already suspect to be true.

How serious is the problem of head injuries in football? No one has ever done a well-controlled, long-term study of cognitive impairment to find out. No one has ever selected a random group of athletes in advance, then followed them over time to figure out how their rates of brain pathology relate to everybody else’s. These are just the most basic questions that are yet to be answered, but there’s lots more we still don’t know.

And won’t. Even if we wanted to.

  • My fantasy football league holds our draft after work hours, hosted at our director’s house, so at least the draft itself isn’t a distraction. But it’s getting harder and harder for me to get very excited about the NFL season or my fantasy league the more I learn about concussions.

    • DavidG

      It’s not just concussions. The research is starting to show that it may actually be the small, repetitive, non-concussive impacts can cause just as much damage.

  • wendywulff

    Cities do the same cover-up of the dangers of concussions, but it will probably never get fixed, because cops who file for work comp are forbidden by MN state law from suing, as are their family members. Also, cops don’t have the means to self-finance appropriate treatment when cities refuse to pay for it, so they just end up suffering in silence.