Evan Weiner: Is Football Under Siege?

May 19, 2012

Posted with the express consent of Evan Weiner:

THE BUSINESS AND POLITICS OF SPORTS
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Saturday, 19 May 2011
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BY EVAN WEINER
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
COMMENTARY
In 1905, United States President Theodore Roosevelt used the power of the bully pulpit by ordering the Presidents of Harvard, Yale and Princeton to the Oval Office so that the heads of the three schools would work together to clean up the game of football. There was some thought that President Roosevelt could actually ban the game although history suggests that Roosevelt liked football but was aware that new rules needed to be imposed to make football safe.
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In 1905, eighteen players died from injuries that were suffered on the field while another 149 were reported to have serious injuries. Roosevelt’s pressure produced a number of changes including the introduction of the forward pass, the distance to be gained for a first down increased from five to ten yards and all mass formations and gang tackling were banned.
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Roosevelt’s Oval Office meeting would eventually led to the formation of the National Collegiate Athletic Association and college football would grow in popularity with significant attention being paid to the college game coming in the 1920s.
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The game of football is again being scrutinized but neither the President of the United States not Congress is leading the charge. Instead more than a thousand former players are suing the National Football League claiming the league didn’t inform them of the risks of playing football and that they have suffered life altering injuries because of their service to the game.
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In some quarters the football industry looks to be under siege but it is hard to see how that is the case. Municipalities are still throwing money into building football facilities with the latest set of politicians being in St. Paul, Minnesota where the legislature and Governor Mark Dayton are willing to give the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings franchise at least a half a billion in taxpayers’ dollars to build a new stadium for the team. Cable TV networks are willing to fork over big dollars for college football and the public likes football. But there are some warning signs out there.
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“I think it is wrong to characterize it as under siege,” said Steve Hatchell, the President and CEO of the National Football Foundation. “The game has always been under siege. The whole aspect that we are talking about is that there are not hundreds but thousands of kids that are playing football that go on to have unbelievable lives of leadership, great productivity and do great things in our society.
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“The problem is that nobody really wants to listen to that. So it was as you talk about guys who played the game, guys who have been in the pros who do not have head injuries. That’s a whole separate story that needs to be addressed and needs to be juxtaposed to what you would call are the issues.
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“The issues themselves like concussions need to be addressed and it is being addressed. There are a lot of very fine people looking at that. Is it concussions, is it depression. Are there other aspects of this thing that require a great study?
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“So I think that there are a lot of ways to look at this that are far greater in their expanse than what is being looked at right now. The game has never been hotter, it has never been more than it has been accepted right now and there has never been a time where there are fantastic people playing the game who want to do great things in life.
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“We work hard to try to get that story out there, it’s just that nobody wants to listen to that.”
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In 1905, Harvard President Charles Eliot, who was no friend of Roosevelt, led the charge to ban football.
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One hundred seven years later, no one is calling for a ban on football but some people like former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman question how viable football might be in 20 years. But football’s vitality was questioned in 1905 as well.
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“It is not the same,” said Hatchell of the public debate in 1905 and the stories that are now coming out on the safety of the game from former players who were on the field in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and in the 21st century. “I think it is easy to draw it back into 1904 and say you got those issues. I think you can come up with a lot of statistics. There is football being played in a very intensive way all around the country, not just in the Ivy League where President Roosevelt had that concern. There were also other issues. Some of those kids who were in school at that time weren’t really in school or if there were there, there were basically as professional people.
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“It’s one of the reasons that the NCAA rule book is as big as it is. It is because of the rules that were violated or things that weren’t been done by Ivy League schools back in the early 1900s. I think now we are better equipped to take on the issues. I think we are better equipped to examine them than ever before. We will in a negative society where things are wrong and then you got to prove it backwards. We don’t tilt at that. We don’t think it is anywhere near where it was in 1904. There is better coverage on it right now of everything that goes on than what was ever before. So the negative find a good voice where the positives don’t find a voice at all. So I don’t think it is a fair comparison to go back to that span of time because it was very different and it is very different right now.
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“But the game now isn’t like it was then. We put a guy in the (College Football) Hall of Fame (William Lewis) from the late 1800s from Harvard who had already played at several different schools. He created the neutral zone. There were things like neutral zones or – this was a different kind of a game – it was very, very violent. The game is violent now and it has always been violent.
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“You don’t have to play the game of football if you don’t want to play it. Our whole point is, if you are going to examine the people who are playing the game who have the problems now, you also have to examine the guys who are playing the games now or in the past that didn’t have any issues. You got to have balance and there isn’t that balance out there right now.”
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So far, only former NFL players are threatening football’s structure and they are a fraction of the number of players who have been on the football field since the first college game between Princeton and Rutgers in 1869. On the horizon though is the potential for an onslaught of lawsuits from former players who performed on just the high school level or on the high school and college level. There is no question that public education in the United States is under attack from various interest groups and that school budgets have been slashed with music and the arts being eliminated. It could be that an expensive sport like football or hockey may face severe cuts because of higher insurance premiums and the fear of catastrophic injuries. Around the country, high school football is king but will it remain that way?
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“Oh sure, I think you have to look at all of those,” said Hatchell talking about the future of high school football in the United States. “But there have already made that decision in a lot of places to do away with band, anything that happens to be after school, not just football. Football is an easy one to target because there are a lot of expenses involved and you make up the rule that it is too dangerous or you are not getting the right coaching. It’s pretty convenient as opposed to how do how do you make it really work?
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“We (Hatchell) live in the state of Texas and high school football is not dropping off in the state of Texas. It has never been bigger. It has never been more significant than it is before. I think to say expenses are the way or the reasons to do away with things is wrong. Money is incredibly tight but we are talking about education and the other half of education that the High School Federation talks about. You got what you are doing in school and what you are doing after school and I think we need to have both in this society and I think they both have to be promoted. There are ways to get that done and we (the National football Foundation) work carefully with a lot of school districts around the country that try to keep football alive and well. It takes a lot of work.
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“Football is still awfully strong whether you are in Seattle or Washington or New Jersey football is pretty good football right now. I think there are great outposts of it around the country. Our whole point is this: Yes, let’s highlight what is negative and what needs to be repaired but on the other hand let’s highlight as well with the same passion, the good things that are happening in the game and the benefits that the kids have about going to colleges and doing a lot of other things. I think we can take advantage of that.”
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Football is a collision sport and not a contact sport. But that may not be the underlying problem for the future of football.
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“I think the bigger threat isn’t cost or injuries or anything to football,” said Hatchell. “I think it is the varied interests that kids have today. One of the burgeoning sports in the state of Texas today is lacrosse. Now it is a very big sport in the state of Texas. I think because of coverage and the coaching, there are a whole lot of other sports that are going to be emphasized greatly, the kids are going to have, they will not be limited to three of sports like when we were growing up. I think in 20 years (if football’s popularity wanes) it would be due to a general lack of interest as opposed to anything that has to be with injuries and other things. I think interests change and people move on.”
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Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy’s 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on “The Politics of Sports Business.” His book, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition” is available at www.bickley.com or amazonkindle. He can be reached at evanjweiner@yahoo.com
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One Response so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Dave Pear
    May 21st, 2012 at 6:25 pm #

    Dave & Heidi.jpg

    News for NFL concussions

    Dickerson joins list of players suing NFL

    Fox News – 1 hour ago

    Houston, TX – Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson has joined the list of players filing concussion-related lawsuits against the NFL.

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