Annual state of the NFL report

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Hall of Fame defensive back Lem Barney predicts that in 20 years there will be no more NFL.
  • Hall of Fame defensive back Lem Barney predicts that in 20 years there will be no more NFL.

San Diego Chargers open training camp five weeks yonder. The first NFL preseason game kicks off ten days after that. This is the ideal moment, basking in the last days of football calm, for the Box to issue its annual State of the NFL report.

First glance, the league has never been in better shape. Last fall, 31 of the top 32 most-watched television shows were NFL games. TV revenues, from 2014 through 2022, will average $7 billion per year. On paper, the value of a NFL franchise looks like a housing bubble. Jerry Jones bought the Dallas Cowboys in 1989 for $150 million. His team hasn’t been to the Super Bowl in 17 years, yet Forbes estimates the franchise’s value at $2.1 billion. Even the least among them, the lowly and strangely located Jacksonville Jaguars, are valued at $770 million (the Chargers are ranked 24th out of 32 clubs at $936 million).

NFL games are broadcast three days a week and the public wants more. Happily, the NFL has its own TV network. Even more better, the league has a long-term labor contract that gives owners more money, which is needed, since only 18 owners have a personal net worth exceeding $1 billion.

The league has created a venture-capital arm, something not usually associated with sports leagues. They are partnering with Providence Equity Partners. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told New Jersey’s Star-Ledger that “the NFL will not limit itself to investing in companies that are solely and/or tangentially related to football.”

Got to keep moving. The NFL is said to be a $9.5 billion enterprise. Commissioner Roger Goodell has expressed a desire to make that $25 billion by 2027. Good times.

And then there’ s this item gleaned from Friday’s metadata. Lem Barney, Hall of Fame defensive back for Detroit, said, at a Sound Mind Sound Body Football Academy camp, while sharing the dais with the head coaches from Michigan and Michigan State, that football will be gone in 20 years.

“You look at guys like Bubba Smith that left us, Dave Duerson that left us, Junior Seau as of late, that are killing themselves because of the head injuries they had. You hear about guys who played in championship games, Pro Bowlers and Super Bowls, but you don’t hear about the regular Joe who plays the game and has killed themselves. The game is that deadly today.”

According to nflconcussionlitigation.com, “As of June 1, 2013, there are more than 4800 named player-plaintiffs in the 242 concussion-related lawsuits. Including the players’ spouses, there are more than 5800 plaintiffs, total.” The first NFL concussion lawsuit was filed less than two years ago.

You can see why one judge was chosen to coordinate, consolidate, and oversee all the lawsuits. Next month, in Philadelphia, U.S. District judge Anita Brody is expected to make a key NFL concussion-litigation ruling, to wit: whether concussion-related lawsuits will move forward in civil court or be dismissed and handed over to an arbitrator. The NFL says the lawsuits are actually contract grievances and should be settled by a labor arbitrator. Lawyers for former players say the NFL knew about the dangers of brain concussions and actively concealed them, which brings up issues of fraud and cover-up, which, in turn, requires a hearing in civil court.

If concussion litigation goes to court and the NFL loses, one figure bandied about is that the league settles for $5 billion to be paid out over 25 years. Payout to be divided among 32 teams. That’s $6.25 million per team, per year. You can live with that, if that’s all there is.

Here’s the problem: NFL football is a violent game. That’s why Americans love it. Change the violent nature of the game and fans, by the millions, will stop watching.

But, if you don’t change the violent nature of the game, the drip, drip, drip of endless lawsuits — and lawsuits will continue to be filed no matter how this judge rules — will ultimately educate the public. It’s not just lawyers and corporations and players anymore. Everybody’s got a mom and dad. Players have girlfriends, boyfriends, children, and relatives. And more and more of these people are going to start bitching and nagging, are going to actively discourage their sons and boyfriends and husbands from playing football. The NFL won’t be cool anymore.

This will take years and more years. If the NFL concussion lawsuits go forward, lawyers estimate four years just for pretrial discovery. Then the trial. Then the appeals, and appeals of appeals.

Boxers still box. There will still be an NFL, but it’s unlikely to be the fat, happy, arrogant entity we see today.

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Thanks, Patrick Daugherty. Great reporting on the financial and cultural facts of major league football in June 2013.

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