Fixing Football

Back on December 29, we ran a “sneak preview” of Matt Connolly’s article from the new issue of the Washington Monthly on the economic history of college football, the dynamics that led to today’s reality of multi-millionaire coaches and (for the moment) still unpaid players. If you missed it then, take a look now before Nick Saban’s next raise.

But also in the new issue is Jeff Nussbaum’s piece on the growing troubles of pro football and how to at least partially fix them. His main focus is on how football should deal with the growing realization of–and legal liability arising from–the horrific and sometimes fatal damage associated with repeated concussions and chronic brain trauma. The easiest fix he proposes is to require the use of existing helmet technology that can sharply reduce concussions. But he also proposes a ban on the three-point-stance–a practice that guarantees frequent helmet-to-helmet collissions by linemen–which sounds drastic until it is compared with some of the changes the sport accepted a century ago when on-field deaths were spiralling out of control.

Nussbaum also discusses making the NFL move (like other professional sports) towards all-guaranteed contracts that would tend to make teams less likely to invest in chronic domestic violence perpetrators, or to push players to risk career-ending injuries.

All these changes would obviously have a ripple effect throughout football, including its “amateur” levels. It would also involve a recognition by the managers of the sport that it is in the kind of trouble that money and hype cannot fix, illustrated by rapidly eroding interest in the sport among millennials.

As you prepare to watch the NFL playoffs that continue this weekend or the college football championship on Monday, both these articles are good reads for the maintenance of perspective–and even a clean conscience. All genuine football fans need to embrace reforms of the sport, or find some other pastime.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.