Monday, December 28, 2009

Time to outlaw the NFL?

I need to start this blog by saying that I grew up loving professional football, but in the last few years that I have begun to sour on the hypocrisy of college football and the brutality of the NFL, both of which receive a semi-free pass from a mostly compliant press corp.

The average NFL career lasts 3.5 years. Of the 100,000 high school kids who strap on pads every year, only 0.2 percent will have the pleasure of experiencing such a short career. These statistics are courtesy of the NFL Players Association. It’s hard to imagine another profession that so callously discards men after they have outlived their usefulness.

For the players, part of the allure is the money, the million dollar contracts. Only, most athletes struggle to hold onto those riches. A March 2009 Sports Illustrated article reported that:

- By the time they have been retired for two years, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce.

To do the math, the average player logs three and half year in the NFL and two years later, he’s a financial wreck. At least the guy has his college education, right? No, absolutely not.

The graduation rate for kids in big time football and hoops programs is lower than the national average, which tells you those boys are hitting something other than the books. Everyone in the system knows these kids don’t attend four year degree school with the notion of coming out of it holding onto a diploma. You only need to listen to one press conference to realize most of these kids would have trouble with English Lit 101. I could go on, but the Root’s Deron Snyder has a really good take on the hypocrisy behind pretending these young men are student athletes.

The NCAA would have you believe that graduation rates are going up. Instead of spouting these numbers as gospel, can we point out that the NCAA only looks at kids have scholarships for four years? If the coaches think a freshman will not be good enough to make the team in his sophomore year, he isn't offered a scholarship for the sophomore year. I think you have to count those numbers in the dropout rate. They don’t help.

Well, so we’ve seen that the NFL doesn’t prepare its players for life out of the game financially and the colleges don’t give them the educational background they need to survive without football. But that’s not the biggest crime.

Depending on position, the average NFL retiree has a life expectancy 20 years less than the average man in America. In case you missed it the first time, yes that number is 20 years less.

And the quality of life is dramatically less. Those who live long lives will face knee and hip replacement surgery, an inconvenient truth the media has ignored.

Then there are the concussions. In light of aggressive reporting by the New York Times, the league has acknowledged concussions leave lasting damage. You can file that under things that are obvious unless you are trying to ignore them, like snow is cold and rain is wet.

When we attend movies, another entertainment venue, we employ a trick called suspension of disbelief to help us imagine that a car chase could happen on Fifth Avenue during rush hour in New York City or that aliens would want to phone home. During one particularly bad Christian Slater movie, my father once remarked, “There isn’t that much disbelief in the world to accept this plot.”

I feel that way about the NFL. I can’t look at it without thinking we are willingly sacrificing young men’s lives for our entertainment, and not just the guys who are who make it to the big time, but also the guys who work hard but aren’t good enough to play in the league.

Here’s is what I wonder: a thousand years from now, will archeologists look at football the same way will look at Roman gladiators and be appalled by how we let this happen?

6 comments:

Tony Mackey said...

And you would make this illegal on the grounds of...?

On the grounds that not everyone makes tons of money? Because it is a bad life choice?

Would you also outlaw boxing? Would you outlaw MMA?

How about horse racing? Did you ever see a healthy 99-year-old jockey?

Outcroppings by Tony Loftis said...

Let's go with it's morally wrong to have hundreds of thousand of kids think playing football is better way out of dire straights than hitting the books.

And it's not that people don't make money at it, it's that the people who play the sport don't make any money at it and they die early for their trouble.

There's something wrong with that system.

Tony Mackey said...

Sorry still not outraged. Blame the parents and move on. By the way, do you want in on my superbowl pool this year?

Marc Hausman said...

Thanks for including a link to the the "Strategic Guy" blog in your blog roll.

Interesting post. Thought you'd enjoy this "tweet" of mine (@strategicguy) from this morning. It's about the questionable practice of Texas Tech's head football coach in dealing with a player who recently suffered a concussion.

Kudos to the James family for going public with their complaint against Texas Tech's football coach. http://bit.ly/8oXqpj

greg said...

People rap and play basketball to get out the ghetto. They play football because it's fun. Furthermore banning the NFL will not stop college players from choosing to bulk up to 350 pounds. Indeed banning the NFL will make college football more attractive by placing it back at the pinnacle of sports--have we ever had an athlete bigger than George Gipp? A better solution to banning the NFL would be independent medical examinations as they have in boxing and a team weight limit--270 pound running backs? College could enforce its own rules limiting how much time a player can spend practicing but football is fun, studying is not.

The NCAA could tie the number of scholarships available based on graduation rates but aren't inner-city men better off having had a college experience even if they don't graduate?

Lastly, there is a huge difference between the likelihood of an inner-city youth graduating college and his suburban counter part. The blame for this cannot be laid at the feet of the NCAA.

Anne Marie Donadio said...

Tony, I don't know where to begin with this rant blog. Everything you just stated is known by every kid and parent that signs up to play football. I am not sure how you can blame the sport if a man that has made millions throws it away two years after he has retired. Poor life choices are not the fault of the sport. Neither is the fact that these college athletes do not get degrees.

And by the way the NFL just this past year put in more rules to PROTECT players than any other year (i.e. no hitting QBs below the knees, no hitting a defenseless receivers, all facemasks are 15 yard penalties, no wedge blocking on kicks). The NFL has also taken the lead in trying to understand the severity of head injuries and have taken steps to ensure players sit who are experiencing post-concussion symptoms not to mention improvement of the helmets to protect the side of the head and jaw better.

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