Former All-Pro LB Junior Seau, who committed suicide in 2012, was later found to have suffered from CTE

Sunday was made for football fans. Every Sunday, millions of football lovers in America wake up and prepare to watch their favorite team play to win the Lombardi Trophy, the prize given to the Super Bowl champions. However, injuries are increasingly plaguing the National Football League (NFL), and doctors are beginning to wonder if the sport is too dangerous for the athletes to be playing. The injuries in football often have dangerous effects, such as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease often found in football players sometimes causing death. Even though some believe that the end of the NFL is near due to the increasing rate of injuries and diagnoses of brain-related diseases, since the sport generates a great deal of money for the players, the teams, the NFL, and related parties, including large advertisers, the league will not shut down anytime soon[1].

As a result of countless hits to the head during games, the amount of CTE cases in football players has reached an all-time high. The rate of concussions increased from 206 to 271 during the 2016 season[2]. The majority of the diagnosed concussions are caused by helmet-to-helmet hits during games, according to a report conducted by Quintiles Injury Surveillance and Analytics. In July, the medical journal JAMA released a study about the rate of CTE found in players that chose to donate their brains to scientific research after their death. According to the study, 110 out of 111 patients that donated their brains had been diagnosed with CTE[3]. “There’s no question that there’s a problem in football. That people who play football are at risk for this disease,” said Dr. Ann McKee, director of Boston University’s CTE Center and coauthor of the new study. Aaron Hernandez, a former college star at the University of Florida and a Pro Bowler in the NFL, took his own life while he was serving a life-long sentence for the murder of Odin Lloyd. “‘Aaron suffered from a severe case of CTE… Not only were the results positive, but we’re told that it was the most severe case they had ever seen for someone of Aaron’s age’”. Hernandez was diagnosed with third stage CTE, which called attention to the medical research that full-contact football is extremely harmful to the human brain[4]. Additionally, research has been conducted which evidences that there will never be an “ideal” helmet that will allow hits to the head without a high risk of consequences to the brain. As a result, players who suffer injuries, particularly in the head, are passing away at an earlier age than average due to the violence of the sport[5].

“If I had a perfect place to die, I would die on the field,” Jamal Adams, the rookie Jets safety, said in response to the study conducted by Boston University[6]. Despite the scare of concussions, Adams like many others believe that football is too great of an aspect in their lives to be taken away. Even though doctors believe that football is a gruesome sport that promotes violence and causes life-long injuries, the league and the players have no plans in shutting down the NFL. Financially speaking, the average NFL player gets paid $1.9 million per year, with some making over $10 million annually[7]. While the dangers of football have raised questions about its morality and whether it should continue to be played, athletes have also become extremely wealthy through endorsement deals and advertisements. For instance, Odell Beckham Jr., the New York Giants star wide receiver, is known for his play on the field, but is also recognized as a product promoter who has appeared in commercials – including one made by Verizon. Endorsements are a key source of income for athletes, with younger athletes making more money than ever before. Many of these players come from impoverished backgrounds and might have limited options for employment.

“We have a healthy business. We’re not losing money,” said NFL Executive Eric Grubman. In 2014, the average NFL teams’ operating income was $76 million each, including a high of $270 million generated by the Dallas Cowboys[8]. The NFL and its teams have no plan in shutting down the league due to the immense profits that they receive on an annual basis. Even though head trauma remains a large question in the morality of the NFL, the economic benefit of the sport for the league and its owners push them to fight for the continued play of football. The primary sources of income for NFL teams come from the broadcasting rights, ticket sales, and licensing revenue. Additional income is brought in at a lesser rate from the luxury boxes, the concessions, and the naming rights to a stadium[9]. As noted in the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement), the teams receive a large portion of the money that television networks, such as CBS and FOX, make from their advertisers who sponsor their product during commercial breaks. On a more local basis, all NFL teams will have either radio shows or TV networks to provide team coverage: another source of revenue.

In addition to the athletes profiting off commercials, advertisers for the games receive an enormous economic benefit from advertising. Unlike most shows on television, sports are one of the very few that “force” viewers to watch the advertisements because someone cannot wait to watch the event later, like they could for a TV series. By being able to advertise during NFL games, advertisers are able to attempt to hook male viewers, usually in their twenties and thirties because they are the ones who watch the most NFL games[10]. As a result, companies in the male hygiene business (i.e. Gillette), automobile industry (i.e. General Motors), and fast food marketplace (i.e. Chick-fil-A) can pitch their products to NFL fans. This allows for advertisers to get their products on camera for a period of time knowing that they are receiving the right target demographic viewers to see their advertisement. In addition, certain advertisers place their product directly in the games. Microsoft decided to provide the NFL with tablets that help the coaches call their plays. While Microsoft has to pay the NFL to feature their product during the games, they are able to advertise that NFL teams use their tablets[11], which is an impactful way to get more fans to purchase the product. Additionally, TV stations are given the opportunity to advertise for their own shows; for instance, CBS, one of the three main broadcasters of the NFL along with FOX and NBC, present their new programs, such as Young Sheldon to the millions of viewers watching the game.

“If people are willing to pay, people are willing to play.” The NFL generates significant income for its athletes, team owners, and advertisers – and this does not appear to be shutting down anytime soon. But, is it really worth it? Should we be risking the lives of young Americans just to profit off of their talents? I love football and I believe that it is the greatest game ever invented, but when I take a step back and look at terrors these athletes face, I am put in shock. For years, the NFL ignored the issue of CTE in the game and kept it confidential for as long as it could[12]. Even though the economic profit is immense, I question whether or not football should continue to be played due to the injuries that severely damage the brains of the players.


[1] Gray, Michael. “It seems impossible, but end of NFL may be nigh.” New York Post, New York Post, 3 Jan. 2016, http://nypost.com/2016/01/03/it-seems-impossible-but-end-of-nfl-may-be-nigh/

[2] Seifert, Kevin. “NFL to study why diagnosed concussions rose significantly in ’15.” ESPN, ESPN Internet Ventures, 29 Jan. 2016, http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/14672860/nfl-says-diagnosed-concussions-way-season.

[3] Emanuel, Daniella. “CTE found in 99% of studied brains from deceased NFL players.” CNN, Cable News Network, 26 July 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/25/health/cte-nfl-players-brains-study/index.html.

[4] Almasy, Steve, and Nadia Kounang. “Attorney: Tests show Aaron Hernandez had CTE.” CNN, Cable News Network, 22 Sept. 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/21/health/aaron-hernandez-cte/index.html.

[5] Associated Press. “No helmet can eliminate concussions.” ESPN, ESPN Internet Ventures, 12 Nov. 2010, http://www.espn.com/nfl/news/story?id=5797046.

[6] Skiver, Kevin. “Jets’ Jamal Adams asked about CTE, says football field is ‘perfect place to die’.” CBSSports.com, 31 July 2017, http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/jets-jamal-adams-asked-about-cte-says-football-field-is-perfect-place-to-die/.

[7] Manfred, Tony. “Two Charts That Expose How Badly NFL Players Get Paid.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 5 Sept. 2013, http://www.businessinsider.com/charts-expose-how-badly-nfl-players-get-paid-2013-9.

[8] Togerson, Derek. “Is a Chargers Move To Los Angeles Legal?” NBC Connecticut, NBC Connecticut, 25 May 2015, http://www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/sports/Is-A-Chargers-Move-To-Los-Angeles-Legal-304831851.html.

[9] Ejiochi, Ike. “How the NFL makes the most money of any pro sport.” CNBC, CNBC, 5 Sept. 2014, http://www.cnbc.com/2014/09/04/how-the-nfl-makes-the-most-money-of-any-pro-sport.html.

[10] “Men vs women: who watches the most TV? – Realytics Blog.” TV Tracking – Realytics, 17 July 2017, http://www.realytics.io/men-vs-women-who-watches-the-most-tv/.

[11] Barrabi, Thomas. “Microsoft and NFL Expand Tablet Use for Replays, Despite Rocky Start.” Fox Business, Fox Business, 29 Mar. 2017, http://www.foxbusiness.com/features/2017/03/29/microsoft-and-nfl-expand-tablet-use-for-replays-despite-rocky-start.html.

[12] Mihoces, Gary. “Documentary: For years, NFL ignored concussion evidence.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 7 Oct. 2013, http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/2013/10/07/frontline-documentary-nfl-concussions/2939747/.

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