NFL Doesn’t Want Fans Thinking About Concussions While Watching Football

For the league, $765 million is a small price to let fans stay squarely focused on the games

What’s a fair price to allow millions of fans to watch pro and college football without dwelling on the irrevocable harm it might be doing to the participants? Try $765 million.

That’s the settlement the National Football League has agreed to in order to resolve a lawsuit filed on behalf of 4,500 former players regarding concussion-related injuries they suffered during their pro careers. And in the bigger scheme of things, it’s a relatively small price to pay for all concerned.

The concussion story line has become a public-relations headache of its own for the league, ESPN and others with a major investment in football, by far the U.S.’ most popular sport. Indeed, for all the strides ESPN has made in its efforts to present itself as a legitimate journalistic enterprise, it has taken another beating recently over its decision to withdraw from a “Frontline” documentary, “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis,” exploring the issue and scheduled to air in October.

Football is so deeply rooted in the national psyche it’s hard to imagine anything shaking the relationship, but the drumbeat of coverage has nevertheless concerned the NFL, while prompting some outlets — most notably the Wall Street Journal — to rally to the game’s defense. (Part of that, apparently, had as much to do with antipathy toward the New York Times’ aggressive reporting on the issue as anything else.)

The NFL is already dealing with its share of bad publicity, including the lingering cloud related to the murder charges against former star Aaron Hernandez. But the larger threat from the concussion lawsuit is the nagging feeling that every time you thrill to the sight of a big hit or collision, you’re potentially watching somebody being damaged or crippled in a lasting way. (Personally, boxing has never been the same since seeing the toll years of punishment in the ring inflicted on Muhammad Ali.)

There’s simply too much money swirling around the league to allow that to happen, which is why the NFL would move to settle the case before the new season begins. The real question now will be how transparent the league is going forward about medical-research efforts, and whether the media can see beyond the scoreboard to stay focused on an issue that most football fans would just as soon forget.

In a column on ESPN.com, Kevin Seifert argued the settlement “saves the game” from “Armageddon scenarios that threatened the existence of the league.”

Like a lot of what you read about the NFL on ESPN, that seems to be steeped in hyperbole. But for those who think the NFL cares a lot more about its bottom line than it does about the health of former and current players, considerable damage has already been done.

Popular on Variety

More Biz

  • Barron HiltonBarron Hilton 1990

    Famed Hotelier Barron Hilton Dies at 91

    Barron Hilton, a famed hotelier who helped expand the Hilton Hotels empire and a founding owner of the Chargers NFL football team, has died, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation announced. He was 91. “Today the world of hospitality mourns for one of the greats. Barron Hilton was an incredible family man, business leader and philanthropist. [...]

  • Patrick Whitesell and Ari Emanuel WME

    Endeavor Targets Sept. 27 for Stock Debut, IPO Video Tells Company's Origin Story

    After years of preparation, Endeavor is set to make its formal Wall Street debut on Sept. 27, when its stock will begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Endeavor has targeted Sept. 26 for the final pricing of its shares. The stock will trade publicly the following day. Earlier this week, Endeavor said its [...]

  • Netflix - Apple TV

    Netflix Stock Drops After CEO Acknowledges 'Tough Competition' Coming From Disney, Apple

    Netflix shares fell as much as 7% Friday to a nine-month low, coming after CEO Reed Hastings commented that the November launches of Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus will introduce a “whole new world” of competition. Hastings, speaking at the Royal Television Society conference Friday in Cambridge, England, said, “While we’ve been competing with [...]

  • Charlie Rose Sexual Harassment

    Charlie Rose Sued for Sexual Harassment by Longtime Makeup Artist

    A makeup artist who worked for Charlie Rose for 22 years has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit, accusing the former CBS and PBS host of years of unlawful behavior toward female employees. Gina Riggi alleges that Rose was verbally abusive with her and would often make derogatory comments about her weight. She also alleges that [...]

  • Rob Stringer

    Sony Music Chief Rob Stringer on Sustaining Growth and Recovering From the 'Dark Times'

    The Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference, now in its 28th year, gives top executives at major companies the opportunity to make their case to investors — and the Goldman analysts the opportunity to keep things on the up and up. While the analysts don’t necessarily grill the executives, they don’t lob softball questions either. That was [...]

  • Frank Grillo'Avengers: Endgame' Film Premiere, Arrivals,

    Matt Phelps Tapped as President of Joe Carnahan, Frank Grillo's Warparty

    Frank Grillo and Joe Carnahan’s Warparty productikon banner has appointed Matt Phelps president of the company. Phelps will head the Los Angeles office and be responsible for overseeing all film and television projects. “We searched long and hard to find the right fit for Warparty and felt that Matt embodied everything that we were looking [...]

  • Jack Gilardi, Longtime ICM Partners Agent,

    Jack Gilardi, Longtime ICM Partners Agent, Dies at 88

    Jack Gilardi, a longtime ICM Partners agent who represented such stars as Burt Reynolds, Sylvester Stallone, Jerry Lewis, Charlton Heston and Shirley MacLaine, died Thursday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 88. Gilardi was known for his gentlemanly style, love of the Los Angeles Dodgers and his skill at representing top actors. He [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content