By Charles Glover, Jr.
Professional and collegiate American football leagues are doing what they can to win lawsuits that threaten to further damage their image. The growing revenue generated by the NCAAF and NFL on a yearly basis has brought greater scrutiny to their decision-making process when it comes to dealing with public incidents. One of the greatest threats to the enormous popularity of American football is the litany of scandals involving money and large football governing institutions.
Shortly before the start of the 2013 season, the NFL reached a settlement of $765 million in a class-action lawsuit. The lawsuit was initiated by former NFL players alleging that the NFL withheld valuable medical information that led to serious post-career injuries for the players. The NCAA is in the midst of its own class-action suit led by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon. The NCAA suit involves the assertion that the NCAA unfairly profited from selling the likeness of NCAA athletes after the eligibility of those athletes expired. The suit is joined by a group of former NCAA athletes who are challenging the right to be compensated for their likeness. The players also want to be compensated beyond their scholarships with a portion of the lucrative television revenue contracted by the various networks and the NCAA.
The outcry from the NFL settlement immediately pointed to the fact that the settlement did not force the NFL to admit any wrong-doing in addition to the settlement being financially being exceptionally favorable to the NFL financially. This has not changed the perception, however, that the long-term effects of playing football are potentially serious despite many advances in protective gear and better medical advances. The ex-NFL players who were involved in the suit suffered from an array of serious injuries ranging from extreme depression to brain trauma. The argument over the long-term effects of head injuries has carried over to the current field of play where the penalties for plays where players target the head have become as punitive as they have ever been in the NFL.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Dashon Goldson was recently fined an all-time NFL high $100,000 for a helmet-to-helmet hit and Tennessee Titans safety was fined $42,000 for a similar play. The NFL is working hard to change the narrative of player safety from NFL negligence to player responsibility. Houston Texans running back Arian Foster openly admitted to taking money while playing at the University of Tennessee. This past Saturday players from different collegiate teams wore patches on their jerseys as a protest to the NCAA rules that prevent them from earning benefits using their own likeness or signature.
These developments combined with the money-related reports associated with football has changed the conversation when it comes to the popularity of these sports. The NCAA has received millions of dollars over the past several seasons in television contracts. Meanwhile, momentum grows for players to be better compensated for generating the interest that leads to those contracts. The NFL has earned billions of dollars over the last several years. The league is facing a groundswell of concern over the long-lasting effects of this violent game on its players. American football, in general, is facing a challenge that boxing and hockey have faced over previous decades: trying to balance the degree of violence in their sport while ensuring the continued safety and appeal of the game.