The alarming effects of Concussions in the NFL has become a major topic of discussion with a wide variety of opinions from medical professionals, NFL representatives, academic institutions and Anti-NFL advocates. While there has been action taken on behalf of the NFL. some believe that these actions still aren’t enough and that the complete mitigation of concussions has yet to be addressed. There has been many new outlets and sports forums that have called out Roger Goodell and the NFL on their continuous practice of masking the true dangers of head trauma.
The New York Times published an expose that revealed that the “NFL omitted 100 diagnosed concussions from its supposedly all-encompassing study from 1996-2001, which understated the risks of playing football. “(Alan Schwarz, Walt Bogdanich and Jacqueline Williams, 2016). After analyzing both ends of the spectrum, there were two schools of thoughts that arrived through the discussions. The first school of thought is the idea that many of the NFL policies and concussion financial investments are reactions to litigation or bad press.
The second is that the NFL are genuinely trying to act in ethical manner to ultimately decrease the opportunity of players getting concussions and also help educate on ways to mitigate concussions. The first part discussed the opinions of medical representatives and throughout the paper, the differences in opinion from the NFL and everyone else (players, medical professionals, media outlets) will be illuminated but to have a comprehensive discussion both sides must first be argued. This leads to the discussion and idea of scapegoating.
The psychology behind the scapegoat theory is that an individual is able to blame another entity while maintaining a dignified personal image. Moreover, has the NFL become the scapegoat of an issue that has now reached the epidemic status in the minds of the entities involved? There is no question that prior to 2002, the year Michael Webster would became the first American Football Player to be diagnosed with CTE that the NFL acted in an unethical manner. However, we have to assess has the NFL been ethical in its approach to the issues of concussions of late and not be subjected to judge them on predetermined notions.
The NFL has taken a two-fold approach to addressing these issues. These two approaches have focused on 1) financial investments geared toward partnerships with respective companies (Foundation for the National Institutes of Health for medical research, GE, Under Armour) to research and develop equipment or new technologies that could mitigate concussions and 2) rule changes to physical football play that protects defenseless players with the goal of mitigating head injuries.
In an article published by the NFL, referee Walt Anderson, the Head of Officiating for the Big 12 conference said, “Commissioner Roger Goodell has been very involved in discussions with the league’s rule committee and referees to find ways to limit the number of head injuries, while also maintaining the game’s integrity” (NFL. com, 2010). Consumers have to be mindful of what does it mean by maintaining the game’s integrity. It is well known that NFL players seek to physically hurt an opponent game in and game out.
There are NFL players (both retired and currently playing) that knowingly target opponents with malicious intent. Being stakeholders in the game of football, how ethical are these players in the totality of the NFL Corporation. This also leads back to the idea that the NFL could be a scapegoat by players that see lawsuits as a financial opportunity. The NFL since 2010 has created many rule changes to the game. Those rules includes the prohibition of launching off the ground when striking a player and defenders must line up their entire bodies outside the snapper to protect the snapper.
The drastic change to the rules happened when the NFL moved the kickoff from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line and also making the concussion protocol stricter. Should the separation of state and federal rules apply to the NFL? This leads to the idea that maybe teams should be held responsible for not initiating the rules set forth by the NFL. How can consumers undoubtedly blame the commissioner when there has been reported cases of coaches going against the trainer’s permission to insert a player after enduring a concussion?
The discussion of ethics as it relates to the NFL is not a simple take and there are multiple measures that should be considered. In this paper, the ethical landscape of both the NFL and those that oppose the NFL’s handling of the situation will be discussed. The goal is to then illuminate the issues and offer a proposal that would help move the discussion forward and also things the NFL could do to prevent concussions in ways that have yet to be enacted.
Background: Early 2000’s: Michael Lewis Webster (or better known as “Iron Mike”), professional football player for the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers is considered to some the best center in NFL history. Webster was quite accomplished mounting career accolades that included being a 4x Super Bowl Champion, 9x Pro Bowler, 7x First-Team All-Pro, NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, NFL 1980s All-Decade Team, NFL 1970s All-Decade Team and Pittsburgh Steelers All-Time Team awards.
Webster, with his mountain of awards retired in 1990 after a short stint with the Kansas City Chiefs. Through he was a champion in the field, the field would come to effect his personal life as Webster was proven to be disabled after suffering from amnesia, dementia, depression and muscle and bone pains. Webster would eventually die in 2002 from a heart attack at the age of 50. He would go to be the first NFL player diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease.
Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic neuropathologist, who is played in the movie “Concussion” by Will Smith, would go on to examine the tissue of Webster and 8 other NFL players and came to the conclusion that these players were diagnosed with “CTE”. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1. 6-3. 8 million sports and recreational concussions occur each year (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2007; Langlois, Rutland-Brown, & Wald, 2006).
Dr. Bennet Omalu would be the first to diagnose an NFL player with CTE. The findings of Dr. Omalu was not well received by the National Football League and their Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee. The Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee after conducting their research had opposing views when it came to concussions from young players. In January of 2005, the MTBI published a paper in Neurosurgery that stated, “Players who are concussed and return to the same game have fewer initial signs and symptoms than those removed from play.
Return to play does not involve a significant risk of a second injury either in the same game or during the season. ” These findings were contradictory to that of Dr. Omalu who believed that ongoing head trauma increases an athlete’s chance of getting CTE. In June 2005, only a few months after the NFL published their findings, Player Terry Long a former Steelers player committed suicide by drinking antifreeze. Dr. Omalu examined Long’s brain and came to the same conclusion as Webster, Terry Long had CTE.
Dr. Omalu would publish his findings to the Neurosurgery highlighting his test results from Michael Webster. The NFL argued that Dr. Omalu finding were speculative because depression from Webster could from a number of things outside of football. This was followed by a call for a retraction of the Dr. Omalu findings by the MTBI. During 2007, Ted Johnson (explayer of the New England Patriots) told the New York Times that he suffers from memory loss and that it dates back to 2002 when he sustained two concussions and was ordered back to practice only 4 days later against the trainer’s orders.