Enjoy the NFL This Weekend, You May Not Have It For Long

I think Walter Olson is dead on with this:

Steve Chapman at the Chicago Tribune looks at the cultural and legal responses to the mounting evidence that professional football inflicts brain damage on many of its players. He quotes my view that if the litigation system carries over to football the legal principles it applies to other industries, the game isn’t likely to survive in its current form.  [sorry for quoting the whole thing Walter, I just couldn't figure out how to excerpt it]

There is a very good chance that the NFL could go the way of Johns Manville or Dow Corning.  Those companies still exist after being sued into bankruptcy, but that is only because they had other businesses to shift into.  The NFL just has football.  And after reading the concussion stories recently, plaintiff's lawyers are going to have a hell of a lot better scientific case than they had with breast implants.    I honestly think it will take an act of Congress to keep the NFL alive, giving them some sort of liability exemption similar to what ski resorts got years ago.

And don't think the NFL does not know this.  If you are wondering why they handed out insanely over-the-top penalties for bounty-gate in New Orleans, this is why.  They are working to establish a paper trail of extreme diligence on player safety issues for future litigation.

As an aside, I find it frustrating that there is not a better helmet solution.

As a second aside, there is a guy here in Phoenix who was showing off an accelerometer for football helmets, with some kind of maximum single g-force or cumulative g-force trigger that would cause a player to be pulled from a game, sort of like how a radiation badge works.  Good idea.  Look for these to be mandatory equipment in high schools in colleges.    Takes the absurd guess work out of concussion diagnosis today, particularly since this diagnosis is done by people (the player and their team) who have strong incentives to decide that there was no concussion.

As a third aside, there are those who argue helmets are the problem.  Just as people drive less safely with seat belts and air bags in cars, helmets lead to less care on the field.  I will say I played rugby for years (without a helmet of course) and never had one concussion, or any head hit anywhere close to a concussion.  In amateur rugby in the leagues I played in, reckless behavior that might lead to injuries was strongly frowned upon and punished by the group.  Teams that played this way quickly found themselves without a game.  There were plenty of ways to demonstrate toughness without trying to injure people.


  1. Mr. Generic:

    I'm surprised you haven't seen this story yet about car racing safety guys looking into the NFL helmet design.


  2. obloodyhell:

    }}}} and never had one concussion, or any head hit anywhere close to a concussion.

    Have you had a cat scan of your head?

    Seriously. I know a guy who is a manager at a restaurant who used to play rugby. "Never had any issues or problems with a concussion". Got a cat scan for other reasons, and the hospital people couldn't believe he'd never had been diagnosed with a concussion before, there was evidence of at least four of them.

    That said:
    a) I believe this is going to be potentially the destruction of all sports. The simple fact is, you are explicitly making a choice when you play ANY sport that something is going to happen to harm you. AFAICS, it is absolutely ludicrous to try and blame someone else for your making that choice, and having an unforeseen consequence from it, particularly something like concussive trauma... Where do they think the term "punch drunk" came from? -- Right, no single blow, but a repeated series of them over the course of years. And yeah, if this gets applied to football, boxing is next. Then hockey DUH.

    b) I was just reading an article about it in SI the other day. While I do feel for anyone who suffers from playing football in the 70s and earlier and is now broke, since the 80s every single pro player has been making millions of dollars in the course of their career. So cry me a river over the notion that they now have nothing. Really? You spent freaking millions of dollars? Allow me to get out the world's smallest violin to play a little ditty expressing my condolences. So while I support the idea that the NFL (**and** the player's association) should set up an assistance fund for anyone whos career ended in the 70s and earlier, I really cannot work up a great deal of concern over someone who made millions and has managed to blow through it all.

    The real problem with all this is, once more, the trial lawyers and their ludicrous assertion that someone else with deep pockets is always responsible for the consequences of life itself.

    If you thought playing pro football and getting the crap beat out of your body on a steady basis wasn't going to have long-term & late-in-life consequences, then you're too stupid to have any money anyway.

  3. Russ Armstrong:

    Freedom is risk.

    Claiming a mandate to protect us from what they deem risky, executive agencies, courts and legislatures take away our freedom to decide for ourselves. As government gains power over the most minute daily incidents of our lives, it must expand exponentially to provide bureaucrats to regulate all our actions. The nation is going broke hiring bureaucrats to tell us what to do. I believe that in the Soviet Union, a political operative served beside each bureaucrat, to insure that all decisions adhered to the party line.

    Hell is seeing the future and not being able to change it.

  4. Daniel Hill:

    @obloodyhell - I'd beleive Warren's claim to have never had a concussion. If he's brain damaged he must have been a cetificable genius beforehand! You're right thought, it is impossible to completely avoid head injuries in a full contact sport. All you can do is make attacking an opponent's head illegal. But that's not where the damage is being done. I grew up with rugby (and Aussie Rules) and the big difference I see with American football (Go Packers!) is how the players use their own heads as a battering ram, and I have to beleive they would be much less inclined to do that if they weren't wearing helmets.

  5. chuck martel:

    It doesn't have anything to do with government or bureaucrats. The real issue is an adolescent, an individual that's legally incapable of signing a valid contract, making a decision that could negatively affect his health for the rest of his life. There's some justification if an 18 year-old wants to acquire brain damage playing a game for free that generates income for his school but that's not the case for a 16 year-old. The football plug will be pulled by insurance companies, who will want incredible premiums to insure players that become the recipients of zillion dollar jury awards.

  6. Cassandra:

    Hell is seeing the future and not being able to change it.

    You're telling me!

  7. morgan.c.frank:


    i played rugby for 12 years including on an international level. i never had a concussion either. they are simply not a common rugby injury. anyone fool enough to lead with their head tends not to play for long. i've gotten a concussion from wrestling, but never rugby. i tyhink your friend is likely the exception rather than the rule (or one of the guys that never learned to get his head out of the way tackling).

    i think football just needs to tone down the lads and helmets. make them smaller and softer, not harder. today's helmets get used like weapons. if you want to stop the injuries, go back to leather and take off the facemasks.

  8. chembot:

    Easy enough to say, but we have a liability system which rewards stupidity. It is not all the lawyers fault though. They are just doing their job in being an aggressive advocate. I would argue that the bigger problem is the willingness of judges and juries to fleece the deep pockets on behalf of whomever is considered "the little guy", even when the premise is dubious. I consider a lot of the tobacco lawsuits in this category. While that industry did do a lot of unsavory things that they rightly paid for, they also had to put up with (and pay for) a lot of "we didn't know smoking was bad, even though it caused us to cough up a lung the first time we tried it..." baloney.

  9. Scott Robinson:

    I would say that an equally serious threat to the NFL is the likely litigation against High School and College football programs forcing many out of business,
    thus emptying the pipeline of future players.

  10. a_random_guy:

    The thing is: doing any sort of sport semi-seriously involves a risk of injury. Whether it's football, skiing, basketball or weight lifting - you can hurt yourself doing any of it. There are also benefits. The question is simply: are the benefits worth the danger?

    This is no different from any other human activity. What has changed and is changing is the view that life should somehow be risk-free. Pad those playgrounds. Don't let your kids walk to school by themselves. Wrap them in cotton wool and stuff them in the closet, because we cannot accept that life entails risk.

  11. Mark Liveringhouse:

    I think that the NFL has been responding to this issue for much longer than they are given credit. The modern NFL is about passing, not running the football. And, with a predominant passing game concussions are less a problem. You just do not have the same head to head collisions on passing plays and every rule over the past decade has been designed to protect the quarterback and receivers.

    WIth that said, football as an industry really needs to look at improved head gear to help reduce concussions. There has to be some better design that can absorb more impact.

  12. Allan Smith:

    Adults assuming risks with something very "Sandra Fluke" going on here!

  13. N:

    Just remember, the liability system we have is the alternative to a heavy regulatory approval system (which we're slowly getting anyway). You can either have a system that punishes things retrospectively, or a system that attempts to avoid harm prospectively.

  14. Dr. Mercury:


    For all you Coyote fans out there, enjoy your last few moments of innocent bliss.

    I have just now exposed his dark side for all the world to see:


    As for your shattered hopes and dreams, sorry about that.

    It had to be done.

  15. SammysDad:

    Hey, just go back to the leather helmets from the 40's! Very little head butting will exist , then.

  16. chuck martel:

    The game would be better, and much safer, if the players wore only swim trunks. But that would eliminate the possibility of selling jerseys to fans so maybe it should be swim trunks and jerseys. And barefoot, too.

  17. Sotosoroto:

    At least NFL players are less likely to die from cancer or cardiovascular disease than most people (even compared to MLB players), so they got that going for them!

  18. Michael Myers:

    they need to go back to the old leather helmets that protected your ears. the incentive to use your head as a spearing weapon would be gone and player concussions would decrease dramatically. let's look at rugby as an example.

  19. stonefort:

    Actually, studies in the UK and South Africa show rugby has about the same rate of concussions as American football. Rugby players get a lot of concussions from elbows and knee strikes to the head.

  20. Kenneth Hall:

    The issue is less in helmet design (though that's a factor) than in player size, speed, strength, and technique. The has successfully eliminated clotheslining and the flying forearm shiver to the head, and is taking steps to eliminate the "human torpedo" technique. Removing the face mask from the helmet would help.

  21. stonefort:

    Weight limits for lineman could help. Lineman suffer the highest rates of dementia even though they don't get the spectacular concussions. It's the every down, every play brain rattling that appears to be doing the damage.

  22. NoRINO:

    They tried to ban football 100 years ago. A few people were killed playing without helmets. With over a century long record of danger why is it a tort of any kind when a young man VOLUNTARILY participates? People die playing tennis, surfing, golfing, baseball, basketball, bowling etc. Are you going to ban everything? These players make millions of $ knowing full well the risks involved. As a potential juror I cannot help but think no one is making you play.

  23. Mark2:

    100 years ago they did things like Flying V formation which was deadly. The problem was so bad that President Teddy Roosevelt intervened and demanded the Ivy league reform the rules to make the game less deadly. Roosevelt was a fan of the game - didn't want to see it end. I believe one of the reforms was the forward pass.


  24. Mark2:

    And it gets worse when you play sports at once. Take Skiing and Football for example. Never play these two sports together


  25. stonefort:

    Helmets protect from skull fractures which are the more immediate and lethal threat. That's what killed so many in the era before helmets -- broken necks and fractured skulls.

  26. obloodyhell:

    100 years ago they didn't have modern ambulance chasing trial lawyers armed with libtard judges and liberal twit juries taught that the "bad guy" is always the guy with the money...

    Unfortunately, the requirements of a civil trial practically can't wind up with a hung jury.

  27. obloodyhell:

    I haven't really investigated the point heavily, but it's not necessarily, at this point, the actual impacts themselves creating the problem, its' the brain sloshing about inside the skull that's a likely problem. Almost no helmet design can do an awful lot about that.

    The best suggesting I've heard so far is instrumentation in the helmets that measure micro-impacts and can make some guesses as to how much internal slamming is happening, and, much like a radiation dosimeter, pull players after they've had some defined maximal amount. Not sure how much that's going to go over with fans, and it does offter opportunities for abuse, if you pull a hockey maneuver and let your "cheap" low-talent players get themselves ejected along with the other team's best players.

  28. obloodyhell:

    }}} "Pad those playgrounds."

    BWAAAhahahhahaaa.... you mean pull out the monkey bars, the merry go rounds, and pretty much every actual piece of hardware typically associated with playgrounds.

    Oh, and let's not forget the diving boards. Can't have THOSE at any pool.

  29. obloodyhell:

    They often call it "The Kennedy Curse". Me, I call it "The curse of being so stupid even modern ultra-ridiculous safety designs STILL can't save your dumb freaking ass."

  30. obloodyhell:

    }}}} i never had a concussion either. they are simply not a common rugby injury.

    You never had a diagnosed concussion. Have you had a CAT scan of your head? I am willing to bet that there are a LOT of undiagnosed minor but repetitive concussions in rugby, and that a CAT scan would show you have multiple lesions from such events. Not a guarantee, but a good chance of it. If I'm correct (and 50 cents will get you a big shiny Sacajawea dollar) hat means you had concussions, they simply weren't severe enough to be noticed or diagnosed.

  31. obloodyhell:

    I think you just have to make such strikes a serious penalty, which will be much better than throwing out the baby wiht the bathwater that "no helmets" would be.

    As far as the "no concussions" claim, see my comment to morgan frank, above. Just because they were never severe enough to be diagnosed or even recognized does not mean they didn't happen. As I noted, my rugby playing friend had said the same thing -- he'd never officially gotten any kind of concussion -- but he had the recognizable brain lesions caused by them regardless of that.

    Again, as noted -- you don't have to really get hit hard in the head to get damage, because you can experience a concussion from your brain slapping against the inside of your skull. Do that repeatedly, and it can result in something much like the disease common to boxers, in which the repeated minor taps to (say) the forehead cause problems over time. Lesions form even if there was no overt, recognizable problem. The lesions are akin to getting callouses in an area of your hand or elbow or something even if you never do something that causes a blister, but continually wear at the skin.

  32. obloodyhell:

    More rhino/dental work :-D

    Just put a heavy penalty for such moves, to make them avoided like the plague.

  33. obloodyhell:

    Yep, not so much the litigation as the insurance premiums. Few colleges have the kind of finances that would really make it worth a trial lawyer, when they have to go up against the phalanx of attorneys any large school (i.e., the ones with money) will have. But the CHANCE of such litigation will make liability premiums shoot up.

  34. Kenneth Hall:

    Weight limits, along with instruction in proper technique, certainly go a long way toward keeping youth football safer. I saw that there is a study under way with respect "sub-concussion" collisions. I think Malcolm Gladwell wrote something about it, but it was a while ago.

  35. Tom Nally:

    George Will said something like this: "If you really want to make pro football safer, make them play WITHOUT helmets."

  36. QHo:

    These players get paid millions of dollars to play this sport. It is their own decision to play, no one makes them do it and if they decide to play, there are certain risk that come along with the sport. You do not see people making a big deal about the deadliest catch guys that risk their lives to make a living. They go out there knowing that there is a risk while they're out there and they're getting paid good money to do so. These NFL players complaining about everything needs quit playing football and go get a regular job with no risk.

  37. Nehemiah:

    This is what can be expected when you have the highest number of lawyers per capita.

  38. John David Galt:

    Football still has the biggest following of any sport in the US. If it's going to be banned (or safety rules imposed) because a few people suffer brain injuries, then boxing (where it happens much more often) will suffer the same fate first.

    Certainly the head-gear which Olympic boxers wear seems to have solved the problem for them (and I wonder if it would work for football).

  39. John David Galt:

    You can't make anything idiot-proof, because they come out with better idiots every year.

  40. John David Galt:

    Or we could go back to having a government that minds its own ***###ing business.

  41. Whiteleyphd:

    Well, I have serious doubts that helments "cause" brain injury in the pro sector...and if it does at ALL...it would be in the pee wee sector (it seems to me) due to lower grade quality equipment, although most football equipment is made by a few high profile football equipment manufacturers. The best reason, I have to present, is my own personal experiences. Now, my grade kids, asked the question, no too long ago, whether "Papa played???...when they wore leather helments?" posed to my older son, Kevin, now 42...as I've just turned 64 in Aug...:-) No!! I didn't wear "leather helments" in my playing day, BUT!!...I did wear (when I was in the 1st grade re: fall of '54; a "cardboard-layered helment"...YES!! It was my 1st real life football suit..and it's LA RAMS look a like helment, was--- in fact....CARD BOARD!!...and I STILL didn't receive any life-threatening head and brain injuries, ALTHOUGH, some in my immediate family, would put several decrees, that I, in fact, MIGHT OF RECEIVED head trama to my brain, when tackling my dad's ...lined up cowboy boots, as "pretend linemen" to wade thru, to tackle the QB or running back, or tight end, etc. I was a pretty descent athlete, tough as nails, and turned myself into a very hard hitting strong side linebacker in high school, winning all district honors, my Jr. and Sr. years!! In fact, our head coach, advanced on our Jr yr.'s 7-3 record, to a higher level Texas IUL high school...and retired their. When I was coaching and teaching my 1st yr, back in my hometown high school, Coach Vaughn was the "Big 4-County Schools' counselor...and stopped me in the hallway, one early morning, with my Superintendent, along side ex-Coach Vaughn, to say: "Harold Lee, I wanted to tell you, that in all of my coaching years, at various levels of Texas UIL football, YOU were the HARDEST HITTING player I ever coached!!" Wow, Coach, thanks for the compliement, for sure, I really do appreciate you comment..." OK, my POINT IS...that I played HARD, HIT HARD, and PUNISHED the one's I HIT, using tackling techniques, not NOW coached, due to I used the TIP of my helment's front-edged crown, just above the eye/face opening and Coach Vaughn's Motto was: HIT!! (EXPLODE) UPWARDS, STICK!! and DRIVE!! the opponent---back, keeping one's balanced footing...to HIT, EXPLODE, STICK and DRIVE!! I need experienced as much as a buzz, "stinger;" or head-ache, at any time in my 2 yrs of Jr. High football; and/or during my 4 yrs of high school football!! Never, not one side effect from the FORCE GIVEN OUT...to my opponents!! And I was using DECADES OLD helment technologies!! Geezes!! I did crack my helment a couple of times, and had to change out, to another issued helment. Broke my double nose guard, a couple of times!!...over 6 yrs of practices and Friday Night Lights!!...:-) Today, the helments have so much higher quality features in the padding of the helment's hull....that it's very hard for me to see in my own mind, that folks are having/receiving brain trama/injuries, from tackling techniques that are NOT TODAY emphasising to use the front part of the helment's fore-head area, to STRIKE the INITIAL DRIVING BLOW to the other person!! It just doesn't compute in my mind, compared to what I KNOW was ONE HELL OF INITIAL LICKS delivered by my own helment!! But, I'm only ONE of millions who have played and are playing the game of football, re: pee wee leagues, select football teams; then on to elementary school (6th grade) and upwards into the middle school range, and then thru high school teams/years!! Just saying, I knew how to STRIKE A FORCEFUL BLOW to the other players, re: practice or games, and I never received...NOT ONE...ill-affect from my helment and/or my tackling technique!! So, go figure, huh? It's a mistery to me, folks, as to why NOW, in the 21st Century's technologies, that tackling, blockiny, hitting helment to helment is causing, to some degree, serious brain injuries in Pro Players!!

  42. bb:

    who cares? the game is no longer a sport but big business hyped by a paid media to put violence into an acceptable format. the clowns who promote, play and watch get exactly what is advertised and what they deserve. just think your kids are raised to accept this kind of behavior as the norm on and off the field. enjoy your violent sunday.

  43. Alex:

    Terrible article. Where's your evidence to support your premises??? Whether or not this is true, this is just a incredibly bad written piece of biased opinion. And this is coming from a news writer and sports editor. I really wanted to enjoy this article, however, there's nothing worth enjoying here.

  44. Alex:

    Furthermore, I think the NFL's 10 billion dollars in revenue will survive a few concussions lawsuits; even if they lose them. You see, that's how you back up opinions with statistics; take notes. No wonder you didn't put your name on the article, I wouldn't want anyone to know I wrote that either.

  45. Alex:

    Exactly. Not to mention the NFL makes more money than all other sports! You can survive lawsuits if you have the dough. This article is a joke.

  46. PM:

    Mentioned this years ago to friends who thought I was crazy - but NFL will be without helmets in another few years. Rugby is the shining example .. tough brutal sport - but relatively sparing from concussions. Unless they go with a massive size helmet - there is no design that can stop minor hits to the brain. Helmet hits immoveable object. Helmet stops. Skull stops inside helmet (though technology has slowed this process down) - brain sloshes inside skull. Take away helmet - people don't let their skull hit immoveable object nearly as often.

  47. marcel:

    You are talking about your experiences in HIGH SCHOOL football - please! The severity of the blows in the college and pro game is multitudes higher (much more mass, much more speed), but the brain is no less fragile. I know, I played in college - not even remotely close. Moreover, you played many years ago, and today's players are definitely bigger, stronger, and faster - no doubt drugs are a big part of this! - and again, the brain is not less fragile. Sorry sir but your experience proves nothing at all in this debate.