The NFL has a problem.
Well, to be clear, the NFL has plenty of problems. But our insatiable appetite for NFL football allows the sport to thrive in spite of itself, at times. Still, it will become harder for the NFL to thrive if the cats who run the league can’t find a way to herd themselves on the question of the link between football and Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy and the various other issues and potential links that flow from it.
Two weeks ago, NFL executive V.P. of player health and safety Jeff Miller admitted to the existence of a link between CTE and football. And the rest of the league office has not disputed that, as explained last week by Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“We think the statements that have been made through Jeff Miller and others have been consistent with our position over the years,” Goodell said.
Still, some owners have decided to take issue with the official position from the entity that is supposed to bring all teams together.
“I can’t say I agree with that comment,” Colts owner Jim Irsay told Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal regarding Miller’s remarks. “To say you know all of a sudden there is a suicide or a murder, and to say, ‘Oh, that is football.’ I mean, that is completely ludicrous. It’s not just true. There is so much we don’t know. Whether you are dealing with Alzheimer’s, whether dealing with contact sports with concussions that can come into play, you know, we don’t know enough about it.”
Jets owner Woody Johnson used softer terms to reach the same conclusion.
“I am not in a position [to opine on the link between CTE and football],” Johnson said, via Kaplan. “I am a layman. [Jeff Miller] is a layman as well.”
Both Irsay and Johnson seem to be blurring the line between linking CTE and football and linking CTE with specific cognitive issues or other health problems. The more accurate statement is that, yes, there’s a link between CTE and football but, no, we still don’t know what it all means.
Irsay thinks that the uproar comes from those who hope to capitalize on the popularity of the sport — and the notoriety of the subject.
“Football is so popular, people know they can sell their story in a newspaper form or a rating on TV, so they use football because what they are more about in the business of, you know, selling newspapers or seeing commercial time on TV,” Irsay said. “I see it for what it is, man. I stand there and look at it as a grandfather and someone who has been around for 50 years and sure, part of it is frustrating, but everyone has their own self-motivating motive, and that just happens.”
The problem is that the NFL’s “self-motivating motive” continues to be the preservation of a billion-dollar business. Which causes folks like Irsay to make claims that many see as not credible.
“One thing I have always felt strongly about, that [is] to say, ‘Oh, someone knew something and they didn’t tell way back in the ’60s or ’70s,’ that’s just not true,” Irsay said. “I was there. I know that’s a lie. You know, no one knew anything. The only thing we know and always knew is when you strap on that helmet and go out on the field, boy you know you are taking a risk, but the reward is something. It’s worth it.”
Irsay is flat-out wrong on this. It’s been proven and accepted that the NFL, via the efforts of the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee and acting on a “self-motivating motive,” downplayed and ignored at best and covered up and lied about at worst the risks of head trauma from 1994 until perhaps as late as October 2009, when the NFL had an epiphany provoked by a Congressional hearing on the issue. With Irsay spouting off what can fairly be characterized as nonsense regarding one of the darkest chapters in league history, it’s hard not to wonder what else is being downplayed, ignored, covered up, and/or lied about now.
It’s also hard to understand why the NFL doesn’t do a better job of pushing talking points to the owners and forcing them to parrot them. During and prior to the lockout, owners were forced to keep quiet, under threat of six-figure fines. On an issue much more important to the long-term viability of the league, why does 345 Park Avenue let the owners keep talking — especially when what they’re saying doesn’t mesh with the league’s broader message?