How Well is the NFL Taking Care of Players’ Health and Wealth?



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The multi-billion-dollar industry that is the NFL is trying to foster an improved environment where players can live longer and gain a better quality of life during and after the game. Have they been successful?

In recent years, the NFL has created rules to minimize damage physically and neurologically. The new rules are designed to protect the head and legs because most former players either suffer from debilitating neurological problems or have trouble performing simple activities like walking.

Despite the presence of helmets and advances in technology, current players still suffer from head trauma from incidental contact to intentional hits to the head from a tackle. In revelation of the findings of long term brain damage among many former players, leagues like the NFL have instituted a protocol to monitor a player’s brain activity should they show any symptoms of a possible concussion.

The new measures don’t necessarily improve technique as there have been more roughing-related calls depending on how the defense targets the offensive player. The increased calls annoy players and fans alike because they tend to extend the game in excess. Have the new rules really worked?

Sure, helmet tech has improved to lessen a far more devastating hit, but the helmet can only absorb so much before the kinetic energy transfers to the player. While the league has been more vigilant when it comes to head-related injuries, leg protection is a bit iffier.

While there is extensive padding around the thighs and some opt for shin guards, a direct blow to the legs, especially on a gang tackle, pile on, or even block have ended many players’ seasons. It’s not practical at all to add thicker padding to lessen the impact on the legs without sacrificing mobility in the process. Proper technique for an offensive ball carrier is to stay low when running through the hole and tackle, but for a position like a quarterback, that’s just not practical. They need to stand straight up in the pocket and scan the field, while the defense tends to be far less discriminate about where they hit the QB as long as they can make him cough up the ball.

Where the defensive player launches himself and where the QB ends up don’t always go according to plan, as momentum and precious seconds can mean the difference between a legal hit or roughing the passer call. As far as the loopholes go, the league is trying, but given the nature of the sport, long term damage is very difficult to avoid.

While NFL athletes are among the wealthiest of all athletes, you have to consider the limits medical technology has even with current resources. Many of these injuries aren’t just short-term inconveniences, but rather they take time and recovery. Many don’t even return the same. Losing a few steps on your speed can be a death knell to a career when a player accepts the idea of playing hurt but is negatively affecting the team’s production.

So many former players who were in the game before the NFL became a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate are still suffering. Medicine, therapy, and surgery pile up. So many have fallen off the NFL’s radar and suffer in silence. Despite current efforts from the league to make amends, cost of treatments is only going to go up. Just like the many of us who have to contend with deductibles and insurance plans, many former players don’t get to enjoy the riches they make from the sport and burn through their money quickly.

Today’s players might be in better shape by comparison, but they still have to deal with the long-term implications of punishing their bodies for the game. The current players owe it to the thousands of former players who are suffering to pool their earnings to help those in need, but it will likely never happen.

Make no mistake. Many who get away from the game on their own terms with their health initially intact still suffer some form of the game’s long-term damage. Guys like Brett Favre, who’s known as being an iron man in the game and clutch with his gunslinger ways, haven’t escaped the after-effects of the game.

Is there a bright future for those hurt in the game? Unless they make amazing breakthroughs in neuroscience to restore function, that’s not likely, and medical bills will still burn holes in the pockets of long-term sufferers.