Here is the first thing I learned that I didn’t know before I read Jed Legum’s Popular Information newsletter this morning (go sign up!):
The NFL generates over $17 billion in revenue annually, far exceeding other major sports leagues like MLB ($10 billion) and the NBA ($8 billion). The NFL’s enormous cash haul is made possible entirely by the players, who risk their lives to create a spectacle beloved by fans.
I mean yes, I knew that the NFL was a scary financial behemoth, but now I know what the number is — and what the number is, compared to sports which don’t routinely destroy players’ brains.
And here is the other big thing I learned about the NFL:
But, with a few exceptions, NFL players, unlike other major sports leagues, do not have guaranteed contracts. That means the players, not the team, carry the financial risk of serious injury. Outside linebacker Ja’Wuan James, for example, signed a four-year $51 million contract with the Denver Broncos in 2019. On May 4, 2021, James tore his Achilles tendon while training. Ten days later, the Broncos released him, voiding the remainder of his contract. James then signed a two-year $4.5 million contract with the Baltimore Ravens. But James tore his Achilles again in the opening game of the 2022 season.
The lack of contract guarantees in the NFL incentivizes players to play injured. If a player isn’t consistently available, the team can release him and suffer no financial penalty. This pressure is particularly acute since the average length of an NFL career is just three seasons. According to the NFL Players Association, three-quarters of players are broke three years after retirement.
Guaranteed contracts are not prohibited in the NFL. But!
The NFL Players Association alleges “that teams and the league have colluded to prevent clubs from offering players fully guaranteed contracts.” According to the complaint, which was summarized in a leaked league memo, “NFL owners and/or League executives discussed not agreeing to any additional player contracts with fully-guaranteed salaries” during an August 9 meeting. The NFL denies the allegation. While providing guaranteed contracts may result in NFL owners making slightly less money, it could also make the game safer. Players would no longer have to choose between taking care of their physical health and their financial future.
Shocker! Say it isn’t so that the same NFL that for so long successfully buried all the findings about concussions beneath a mountain of P.R., bullshit and fake “research” would stack the deck against players’ health and welfare!
The real consequences of all these injuries are often opaque to fans. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), for example, is a “degenerative brain disease associated with repeated blows to the head.” One study of former NFL players’ brains found 99% had diagnostic signs of CTE. Symptoms of CTE include “depression, apathy, anxiety, explosive rages, episodic memory loss, and problems with attention and higher order thinking.” But these symptoms do not fully emerge until after the player retires.
Just remember: No matter what the NFL says now, it seems pretty likely that they expected players to resume play five minutes after watching one of their teammates quite literally drop dead.
It is time, as decent human beings, that we stopped supporting such an inhumane sport — especially with our children, who are also at risk. Coal miners had to adapt to a new career reality, and so should the NFL.
This content was originally published here.