Yes, Commissioner Roger Goodell gets millions to be the pin cushion for the great and powerful men behind the curtain. Sometimes, however, one of Goodell’s bosses emerges from hiding to provide him with a little cover.
On Friday, Giants co-owner John Mara chimed in on the NFL’s concussion crisis, via Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News. Speaking after Goodell’s annual “all is well, but we’re trying to get better” press conference, Mara said tried to paint the concussion crisis as not a crisis, even as the number of concussions spiked from 206 in 2014 to 271 in 2015, and as more and more deceased former players are found to have CTE.
“[M]y God we spent a lot of time talking about this,” Mara said, in response to criticism from Chris Nowinski regarding the league’s alleged efforts to block funding for a CTE test in living patients. “This is not for show as far as I’m concerned. I, myself, spent a lot of hours in those meetings, both in the competition committee and in the health and safety committee. We’ve committed a lot of money for research. For me it’s not a game. It’s not for show. It’s to find answers to these problems.
“And we’ve been involved in this business in my family since 1925. You better believe it’s important to me to find out what’s going on and to improve this going forward. This is our business. We have a lot of young men playing this game that we want to try to protect. This is not for show. This is serious business.”
It’s serious business because, in theory, it threatens to end the business. But while Mara takes seriously the increase in concussions, like others connected to the league he has tried to explain the increase in concussions by pointing to something other than, you know, the actual increase in concussions.
“Yes, when that statistic came out it certainly caught my attention,” Mara said. “But I want to understand the reasons for that. Are we just diagnosing [concussions] more? Is there more self-reporting? Or are we actually having more incidents? I don’t fully understand that yet. That’s something [the health and safety] committee will look at in Indianapolis in a couple of weeks.”
Some have suggested that the Case Keenum debacle sparked a sudden culture change, with more diagnosis and self-reporting of concussions coming after it. But that incident happened in late November, not early September. Besides, it’s hard to call it a watershed moment when the fine-happy NFL opted to impose discipline on no one for failing to grab Keenum by the facemask and dragging him off the field when he clearly was concussed.
“That bothered me quite a bit,” Mara said of the Keenum situation. “It bothered all of us. How could that possibly happen when it was so obvious? I’d like to think that was an aberration. We put these protocols in place just to deal with situations like that. . . . A lot of people missed the boat there — the officials, the medical people, the unaffiliated neurosurgeon. A lot of people were wrong there. I don’t think you’re going to see many incidents like that going forward.”
We definitely shouldn’t have seen the Keenum incident, and we definitely should have seen the same kind of strong, swift, and harsh punishment that routinely is imposed on players who accidentally fail while moving at full speed to adjust their bodies to avoid hitting a guy in the head as he is catching a pass.
So why wasn’t punishment imposed? Probably because it would have made the story even bigger, and if the NFL ever wants to solve its problems in an authentic, transparent way, it needs to quit factoring the public and media reaction into every decision made or considered.