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Football, Concussions, and Character

Tuesday, Apr. 10, 2012

In a presentation today for the Ethics Center, Fox Sports analyst Mike Pereira said that football was in a time of cultural change in regard to injuries. The former vice president of NFL officiating noted that the average lifespan of a man who plays 5 years in the NFL is in the range of 55—20 years less than lifespan of a man who hasn't played. He likened the situation to 1905, when Theodore Roosevelt considered banning the sport because there had been 18 fatalities in the previous year. Instead, rules were developed to protect players.

Pereira said that Football Commissioner Roger Goodell is committed to improving player safety. His focus has been "to protect the thing we can't do without—the brain." Pereira believes that new rules to protect "defenseless players" have had an impact. "Money talks," he said, and players have been influenced by $40,000 fines for violating these rules.

These changes are even having an effect in other sports, Pereira continued, although the moves haven't always been popular with fans. Not all fans have liked the changes, he acknowledges. "Fans like to see big hits. Fans like to watch hockey to see fights. Fans are flocking to mixed martial arts to see guys beat the crap out of each other." While the NFL has been criticized for making the game too soft, he said, they have also been sued by more than 200 former players because of concussion syndrome, which they claim the NFL knew about but did nothing to prevent.

Pereira also commented on recent charges that the New Orleans Saints had a bounty program encouraging them to physically harm opposing players in exchange for rewards. A tape of Saints Coach Greg Williams before a game against the San Francisco 49ers caught him instructing his team, "Every single one of you, before you get off the pile, affect the head."

In response, Pereira said, "Football is violent game. Players hit people hard to intimidate them, but shouldn't be trying to hurt them." Pereira believes that the culture of the game has to change or fewer talented young people will go out for football. "If I had children, I'm not sure I'd have them play the game," he said.