Is Big Football The Next Big Tobacco?

One begins to wonder. And when I say one, I mean a friend of mine who bent my ear on this somewhat taboo topic the other night. A story today details a mass-tort lawsuit involving 126 former NFL players because of the long-term impact of repeated concussions and head injuries.

The lawsuit alleges that the NFL was aware of the risks of repetitive traumatic brain injury but hid the information and misled players, resulting in permanent brain damage or neurological disorders. “It’s scary the extent to which these guys have been hurt,” said Gene Locks, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney. “When we played football, broken bones, busted noses, tears of tissue were kind of expected. Nobody said you’d get a head injury. These injuries are insidious, they are latent, degenerative, and it gets worse and worse as you get older in certain players.”

According to the lawsuit, [former Redskins QB, Mark] Rypien “suffers from various neurological conditions and symptoms related to the multiple head traumas.” The same language is used for each of the 125 other plaintiffs.

So a lucrative industry knowingly destroys the health of the people it makes money off – and keeps the evidence hidden from them. Sound familiar? But the above video suggests what might be the real crisis for football. If it can be demonstrated that playing high school and college football will cause serious and permanent brain damage, wouldn't parents prefer their kids to be playing baseball or basketball? 

At some point, I suspect, this will become a major scandal, as more brain-damaged adults emerge and more evidence comes out that the NFL may have long known about the health effects of their sport as it is currently played. I may be missing something, of course, given my total absence of any cultural capital on the subject of sports, so I'd be interested in readers' thoughts about this. But I have a few questions in my head I can't answer.

Is it conceivable that football may disappear in America if its impact on the brain is absorbed? Or have to be re-imagined? Is this worse now than it used to be – because the sheer size and weight of some players has increased vastly over previous generations? Do steroids play a part? And doesn't knowing that you're watching a bunch of guys turning their brains into swiss cheese take a little something out of the experience?