NEW ORLEANS -- Over the last two decades, the NFL seemingly could do no wrong.Well, if President Obama had a son he wouldn't let him play football, so it's just one more nail in the coffin of American exceptionalism.
The Dallas Cowboys, bought by Jerry Jones for $150 million in 1989, are now valued at $2.1 billion. Twenty of the league's 32 teams are valued at $1 billion or more.
Eight of the country's top 15 most-watched TV programs were Super Bowls, and more than 100 million people around the globe are expected to tune in for next Sunday's matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers. Fans will pay thousands of dollars per ticket just to get inside the Superdome to watch the game in person.
Even after the labor meltdown and player lockout of 2011, when another league might have lost legions of fans, the NFL had a typically captivating season — including the unexpected bonus of Tim Tebow — and grew in influence and popularity.
But fissures have formed in the once-pristine NFL edifice. More than 2,000 former players are suing the league over head injuries, and what they were and weren't told about the long-term damage of concussions. Junior Seau, among the greatest linebackers in league history, committed suicide last spring and was later found to have a concussion-related brain disease. Seau's family this week filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the league. A study released last week shows signs of an ailment similar to Seau's in five living NFL alumni.
"The culture of the athlete is still too much of a play-through-it, rather than player-safety mentality," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in November in a speech to the Harvard School of Public Health. "Many players have publicly admitted to hiding concussions and other head injuries.… This is unfortunate, but we are working with players, team doctors and coaches to change that culture. It is changing, but will take more time, resolve, patience, and determination."
The NFL is considering the drastic move of doing away with kickoffs in the name of player safety. However, Goodell and team owners also have explored the possibility of expanding the regular season from 16 to 18 games, potentially increasing the likelihood of injuries. There also have been discussions about expanding the playoff field from 12 to 14 or 16 teams.
"There's an uneasy feeling around the NFL, because although the league is arguably more popular than it's ever been before, there are also these glaring areas of deep concern about player safety on the field, and the players' health off the field and after their careers are over," said Michael MacCambridge, author of "America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation."...
Just enjoy it while it lasts, I guess.
More at that top link, in any case.