This evening there was supposed to be a Monday Night Football game between the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals in Cincinnati, but in the first quarter of the game, a frightening real life situation intruded upon the game when after a routine tackle, one of the players of the Buffalo Bills got up and then collapsed with what appears to have been a heart attack. CPR was performed on him in the stadium, and he was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital. The game itself was first postponed and then indefinitely suspended–given that the season is almost over it is unlikely that the game will be resumed, and it was a sobering reminder of the fragility of life, even for those who are among the most athletic people in our society playing a game for our entertainment.
It struck me, as the television figures kept on talking about the incident over and over again in the absence of other content to discuss, as neither the hospital nor the Buffalo Bills planned on releasing any other updates tonight except to say that the second-year safety was in critical condition, that the NFL is often behind the curve when it comes to matters of health. Why is this the case? Why was it that players suffered for decades from undiagnosed brain trauma that led them into despair as well as violence, before it was found that repeated head trauma created certain Tau proteins that eventually destroyed the brain, leading the NFL to belatedly enact concussion protocols to try to minimize the problem, only to find themselves failing to recognize concussions frequently in the game. This year such an issue happened twice with Miami’s starting quarterback, to say nothing of what has happened to other players.
Similarly, at present the NFL is denying that the astroturf used by seven teams that has increased non-contact lower body injuries, including ACL tears, has in fact increased such injuries because of cleats getting caught in the holes inside of the turf. At some point, it is likely that the NFL will be forced to acknowledge such a hazard and perhaps will be sued for the injuries caused by such turf. Why is it that the NFL, a league with so much money, has done such a terrible job of getting in front of issues and ensuring the health and safety of its players and the well-being of the people who play after they are no longer entertaining us in games, and when they are dealing with the years and decades of health issues resulting from their athletic endeavors? One would think that it would be in the interests of the NFL to ensure that it was doing the best job possible to keep its players healthy and safe, but it seems over and over again that the NFL is always behind the issues, being forced belatedly to act in a proper matter after being shamed and forced into doing so.
We cannot judge the problems of institutions on an individual basis when there exists a pattern of behavior that is unacceptable and that needs to change. It is unclear what football will look like in future years and decades, and I do not wish to speculate on what sort of sport would allow for the least chance of devastating injuries and what kind of efforts would be needed to take care of retired players dealing with long-term debilitating effects of their years of athletic endeavors. It appears as if the NFL, and the people in charge of it, have done a poor job of reflecting upon the pattern of behavior that leads them to endanger the health and well-being of athletes even as they profit extensively from the suffering of the athletes under their authority. Until such soul searching is done, the NFL seems that it will always be catching up with problems after they are revealed, being years or decades behind the problems that result from people smashing into each other on the gridiron.