Is Football Too Dangerous?

I just read about the death of Kevin Ellison. He was 31. I don’t know any of the details. But pain killers from a knee injury? Delusions about God? I don’t know how he died. Maybe it has nothing to do with football.

Then there was the high school player Dylan Thomas who collapsed on the football field in September and died.

Jordan McNair died in the spring at UMd after practicing in very hot conditions.
Here is another story about football players and the damage they can receive from concussions and head trauma.

I loved watching football as a kid. While I do not follow it much anymore, stories like the ones above make me want to support it even less.

I feel like football is too dangerous and should be massively altered to protect the players. Am I wrong?

It is highly dangerous indeed but what alterations could be done? Much of the protective padding and helmeting is already nearly as protective as it could possibly be, with only marginal more improvement possible. To get a 200-pound running back “down by contact” requires brutal force and impacts; there’s no other way. If we change what it means for a play to be dead by contact then it would be something like flag or touch football.

I don’t know any answers. But high school and younger kids probably don’t know the dangers, or are not necessarily mature enough to weigh the risks that go with the prestige and excitement of playing for the team. And are their parents aware?

You are correct, football’s time has passed. We know about the danger.
But if we haven’t gotten rid of boxing yet, I don’t see football going anywhere, anytime soon.

Yes, football is much too dangerous. But there’s a huge group of people who are proud of that fact, and like it that way, and will fight to keep it dangerous.

But football has always been this way. In the beginnings of the sport, deaths directly due to on-field injuries were sadly common.

To be fair, even boxing has changed a lot in the last years with referees stopping fights way more easily than they used to.

Football is way too dangerous, and I sincerely hope it dies out in my lifetime.

There are lots of things which are dangerous; do you want to ban all of them?

The problem I have is that it is sponsored and encouraged by the schools. I think football should be a non-school activity–set up something like Little League.

And clearly way fewer people follow boxing anymore. Even back when I was still getting a dead-trees paper 10 years ago, and reading the sports section every day, boxing didn’t get nearly the attention then that it had even as recently as the 1990s.

The first isn’t clear but sounds like a heat injury caused death. The second specifically mentions heatstroke as the cause of death. Heat injuries aren’t football specific. People switching to other sports won’t necessarily help that problem.

Although we haven’t gotten rid of it, the popularity of boxing has dropped way down from its peak. Of course, MMA, which is equally dangerous, has arisen although it has taken on overtones that are more akin to professional wrestling even if the actual fights are for real.

The professional and college football leagues need high school football as feeders; if they don’t have a large population of talent to recruit from, they’re going to have a difficult time maintaining the kind of talent base they have now. And while there will always be people willing to play the game regardless of the consequences, as players start suing for CTE-related chronic syndromes, and especially once it becomes credible to positively detect it in still-living players, the mass of lawsuits is going to make pro football untenable, especially considering that revenues for the NFL have been steadily falling while costs have increased even though they are subsidized with municpal stadiums paid for by tax revenue.

Football isn’t completely going away—they’ll play it in Texas until the sun expands and consumes the Earth—but as a major professional sport it is done in fifteen years, maybe ten. The question is what colleges will do, because for many schools football is a major source of alumni donation, and their sports programs are signatures that serve for amplify “ rand awareness” (ugh!). They are probably going to look for ways to modify the game to lessen impact and potential for CTE but allow it to be played at some level indefinitely.


Do you have any kind of cite for that? Everything I have read says it is still going up and set another new revenue record last year.

Actually, it would. (pdf)

The simply solution is to transition from football to rugby. The league version for schools and independent organizations union style for the serious players.

We sure do have a lot of dumb and dangerous sports, though. I don’t think they should be banned for adults, but watching some clips from the MMA fight last night, we look like a bunch of baboons and chimpanzees screeching around the jungle.

No, I’m definitely not a safety-nazi, I don’t want to ban everything dangerous.:smiley:

IMO football and boxing are different than other dangerous activities. Many/most dangerous activities only result in injuries when things go wrong.

The higher rate doesn’t mean switching won’t also see changes in scheduling. Football currently is one of the major causes of young athletes being in physically demanding situations during hotter summer weather. It’s not particularly surprising that higher exposure to high temps leads to more heat injuries. Another physically demanding sport that currently has a lower rate of heat injuries could easily see it’s rate go up if it’s intial practices pushed into summer weather once it became the big fall sport.

Only in a very few schools do sports bring in enough money to pay for their expenses, and those are mostly schools that are big enough to survive without that money anyway. For the vast majority of schools, athletics are a big drain, that they’d be better off without, if they could just admit it.

As others have pointed out, it’s always been a violent, dangerous sport, though what wasn’t really known until recent years (and is still the subject of much research) is the game’s effect on the brain.

Players (particularly once they got past high school) always knew that playing the game was likely to lead to damaged joints that could affect their quality of life once they got older, but what most didn’t know about was the increased likelihood of brain injuries that would affect their personalities.

Despite all of the research that’s now going on to try to develop “safer” helmets, I’m not at all convinced that any helmet can really project against the concussions (and, even worse, the “subconcussive injuries”) that almost undoubtedly lead to CTE and other brain conditions. And, thus, I’m not sure that there’s any way to make the sport substantially safer, in that regard, without changing it beyond recognition.

Honestly, as a pro football fan since childhood I’d be okay with some kind of pro touch football (utilizing technology to confirm the touches). I’m just not sure how that’d work with running plays, unless running backs just become really elusive and we no longer have “power” backs.

But I’d be okay with tackles (including sacks) coming from a player holding the ball being touched by both hands of a single opponent. You could still have a very athletic sport but it’d be much safer.

Sorry, I mistated; ad revenue is up, and although attendance is pretty flat ticket prices have risen, but television ratings are declining, and that is having a measurable impact on the value of NFL teams as an investment. Some people have attributed this to the “Bend the Knee” protests but the trend predates that; more likely, it represents some combination of people “cutting the cord” and watching online content (which are difficult to track because streaming companies don’t report ratings the way television networks do) and an actual decline in popularity. Eventually that will catch up with the league if advertisers are unwilling to pay premium prices for slots and networks stop being so competitive with lucrative multi-year deals.

But it isn’t gradual declines in popularity that is going to kill the NFL; it is lawsuits over the liability for CTE-related injuries and chronic syndromes about which owners have been long aware and took no measures to address or even inform players. Even if they can settle existing cases they’re going to have to address potential future injuries which will cut into their bottom line. The other option is to go to what would essentially be high tech flag football, e.g. simulated contact, and that sounds about as interesting to watch as professional golf.

Oh that’s totally true, and in fact I’d go so far to say that competitive athletics is a money loser for all schools big or small. It was never intended to be a revenue stream for either public land grant or private institutions. It is, however, a marquee issue for the Power Five conference schools with big programs and popular teams, and even if the alumni donations themselves don’t actually pay for the team they attract attention that makes them a recognized name. Whether that is actually an important factor in attracting teaching and administrative talent, and more to the point, research money from private donors and corporate partners that is the main source of revenue for many schools is another question, but universities, and particularly large schools with substantial research revenues are often run in fiscally insensible fashion because they have money to burn.

I’ll go one further and say that there is really no way to make the sport “safe” without essentially eliminating the physical contact aspect. It isn’t helmet to helmet contact that causes injury but oblique impact, both player-to-player and player-to-ground, and it is so pervasive that it is essentially guaranteed that players who play even for just a few years will have some degree of CTE-related impairment. Other sports like basketball or car racing can be dangerous, but the danger is incidental and occurs when ‘play’ goes wrong; for American football the impact action is part of normal play.

I won’t say that we won’t see a Superbowl LXIV, but I’m doubtful it is going to have the same appeal and attract as much attention as it does today sufficient for the sport to be viable in the current professional league form and scale.


The average NFL salary is $2.1 million. They could cut this in half and spend the rest on disability/death payments–and almost everyone playing professional football would continue to play at these salaries–as very few of them have the skill sets to make serious money elsewhere.