The National Football League’s Biggest Threat: Hollywood
In an offseason full of controversy over the air pressure of footballs, the true problems facing the National Football League (NFL) have been largely overlooked. That all changed, however, with the release of the trailer for a new movie, Concussion.1 Scheduled for release in January, it tells the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu and the connection between repetitive head injuries and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The degenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy is caused by the buildup of the abnormal tau protein in the brain as a result of repeated head trauma.2
Not a figment of the imagination, on September 18, 2015, a PBS Frontline report showed an alarming amount of head trauma in former NFL players.3 Presented with 91 NFL brain samples, researchers at Boston University identified the disease CTE in 87 of the subjects, an incredible 96%. Unfortunately, the disease can only be confirmed by dissecting the brain posthumously. As such, the test subjects suspected they possessed the disease before their deaths, which could have skewed the results. Nevertheless, the overwhelming amount of degenerative brain diseases present in former NFL players is growing increasingly difficult to ignore.
In the trailer for the movie, NFL is portrayed as the prototypical “bad company” that uses its vast resources and power to silence those that speak against it. It is implied that NFL will do anything to stop the protagonist, including resorting to nefarious solutions, if necessary. Additionally the film will depict the poor quality of life that those afflicted by the disease must endure. By design, the film’s trailer previewed during the first week of the NFL season and the film is set to release during the last week of the NFL season.
Last April, NFL reached a $1 billion settlement with nearly 5,000 former players who are currently suffering from a host of diagnosable diseases. The settlement, presided over by Judge Anita Brody in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, awarded up to $5 million for former players suffering from a number of neurological diseases.4 Additionally, a portion of the settlement money was designated for medical monitoring for all players, as well as continuing education about concussions.5
The NFL, in paying the settlement, hoped to put to rest all future suits by former players. Despite this, almost 200 former players opted out of the settlement to preserve their rights to sue the league in the future. One such player was the late Junior Seau, who committed suicide in 2012 and was discovered to have CTE during his autopsy. Just this past year, when enshrining Seau in the Hall of Fame, the NFL found itself embroiled controversy by refusing Seau’s family to give an acceptance speech on his behalf. To minimize the risk of Seau’s family saying detrimental statements about the League and their safety standards, they instead had the Seau family make a pre-recorded League-approved video statement.
Despite the NFL’s best efforts, along with constantly improving profit margins, the issue of player safety refuses to go away. Recently, the League tried to improve its health standards by adding concussion protocols and requiring impartial neurologists at every game.6 While certainly a step in the right direction, the increased protocols cannot remove the physicality that is inherent to the game. A Harvard study found that for players on the offensive and defensive lines, where ferocious contact ensues on every single play, concussions occur much more often than they are being noticed.7
Though the NFL is constantly turning a multi-billion dollar profit, their reign of supremacy may be at risk if player safety is not addressed. If Hollywood were to turn against the NFL, it would be a serious blow to the League and add inherent risks. A barrage of anti-NFL sentiment from the silver screen and the millions of fans that follow Hollywood, in addition to conclusive scientific evidence, could be the combination that finally changes the sentiment of the American people toward football as a sport.
Doug Farrar, Leonard Marshall on CTE, Concussion, and the NFL then and now, Sports Illustrated (Sept. 2, 2015), http://www.si.com/nfl/2015/09/02/leonard-marshall-nfl-concussion-movie-cte [http://perma.cc/A7JA-3YKF].↩
Jason M. Breslow, New: 87 Deceased NFL Players Test Positive for Brain Disease, PBS (Sept. 18, 2015, 10:27 AM), http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/sports/concussion-watch/new-87-deceased-nfl-players-test-positive-for-brain-disease/ [http://perma.cc/P8UL-9949].↩
307 F.R.D. 351 (E.D. Pa. 2015).↩
Ken Belson, Judge Approves Deal in N.F.L. Concussion Suit, The New York Times (Apr. 22, 2015), http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/23/sports/football/nfl-concussion-settlement-is-given-final-approval.html?_r=0 [http://perma.cc/NX53-GW2Q].↩
NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee & Bill Bradley, NFL’s 2013 protocol for players with concussions, NFL (last updated Aug. 22, 2014, 12:26 PM), http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap2000000253716/article/nfls-2013-protocol-for-players-with-concussions [http://perma.cc/SZW5-MGKA].↩
Jenny Vrentas, Trouble in the Trenches, The MMQB with Peter King, http://mmqb.si.com/2014/10/14/new-harvard-study-concussions-in-the-trenches [http://perma.cc/W39B-LMZV].↩