Football is a violent, and therefore dangerous, game, all the more so at its highest levels.
The settlement, coming just days before tonight’s opening of the NFL regular season, of a mammoth lawsuit against the league by thousands of former players — a lawsuit accusing the league of hiding information about the dangers of concussions from players — certainly doesn’t change that.
That a settlement was the best thing, both for the league and for the retired players suffering from such ailments as Lou Gehrig’s disease and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is hardly in doubt. Had the suit gone the players’ way, the league might have been on the hook for billions — but even that positive result would have come too late for many of the plaintiffs. And had the suit gone the league’s way, the players get nothing, and the league continues to get bad publicity.
The bulk amount of money involved in the settlement ($765 million) is large, but it is but a fraction of the league’s revenues (more than $9 billion annually).
The question moving forward is how much, and if, the game itself will change over the head safety issue. The concussion lawsuit has forced all of American sports — not just football — to take brain injuries more seriously.
But instilling a greater concern for safety into a culture that honors playing hurt is no easy task. Players have resisted the recent NFL rule requiring the removal from play of player who have, as the old phrase had it, “had their bells rung,” and they are uneasy as well with new rules intended to force tacklers and runners to keep their heads up.
Rules are rules, and the culture is the culture. Football is a violent game, and the game’s fans and players are attracted to that violence.
NFL players now take the risk of long-term brain damage knowingly. If nothing else, that is a legacy of this lawsuit.