NFL’s 18-Game Schedule Would Be Deadly for Players
If we’ve learned anything the last couple of years, it’s that the game of football is—ultimately—deadly. No, it doesn’t often kill its players on the field. But it exacts a toll from its players: Every collision rattles the brain, grinds down bones, shocks the body in ways it wasn’t meant to be shocked, and this happens dozens of times during the course of a single contest, finally doing its dirty work years or decades later.
It killed Junior Seau. It killed Andre Waters. It killed Dave Duerson. It might be killing your favorite players right now—heck, it’s certainly taking its toll on one of the most beloved Eagles of recent vintage, Brian Westbrook, who is 33 and suffers from short-term memory loss.
“Hopefully they won’t continue to progress,” he says of his brain-injury symptoms.
Given the accumulating evidence of harm—as well as a massive lawsuit against the league taking shape right here in Philadelphia—what is the NFL’s response?
No really. Of course. If you’re making $9.5 billion a year by playing Russian roulette with the health and safety of a few athletes most people will forget about in a few years anyway, why not add another bullet to the chamber?
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell presents this issue as one of creating value for the fans. Right now, most season ticket-holders pay for four preseason games as part of their ticket package. Everybody hates preseason games: Your favorite players appear briefly, if that, so that they can save their bodies for the rigors of the regular season. You end up with three-quarters of play featuring guys who didn’t even make all-league honors during their college careers, and who are just happy they’ll have a story to tell their kids someday about the two weeks they were in the NFL before getting mercilessly cut.
So cut two games, Goodell says. Only, the $9.5 billion-a-year NFL cannot afford to give up any revenue, so the league will get those games back—either by expanding the regular season from 16 to 18 games, or by adding a couple of extra games in the playoffs.
“I hear from fans consistently that they want to make every NFL event more valuable. They see the preseason as being less valuable to them because they don’t see the best players and the games do not count,” he said. “We have to address that.”
Really, Roger? You have to address that more than you have to address the health and safety of your players?
What’s maddening about the proposal—at least in light of the players’ health issues—is this: The two games that will be added in the schedule (whether regular season or playoffs) will certainly be more hotly contested than the half-hearted preseason affairs. Which means players might be playing the same number of games, but the number of hard collisions they experience will increase.
Long and short of it is this: The NFL’s proposal will almost certainly kill players a little faster than the league is doing already.
Now, the league will tell you that it is concerned with player safety. That it is cracking down on the big hits it used to celebrate. That it is working on efforts to create even better helmets and other protective gear. Doesn’t matter. The game is still fundamentally about violence. And that violence takes its toll.
And more games? Means more violence. Which means a faster-accumulating toll. The NFL’s proposed longer schedule? It’s a proposal to kill its players a little more quickly, and make good money doing so. That is all.