Will health risks in NFL and NHL change the US/Oz sporting landscape?
More than 100 former NFL players filed a lawsuit this week, alleging the league did not protect players from brain injuries with links to concussions sustained playing the sport.
The allegations have coincided with a New York debate, where the motion to ban college football was discussed.
A vote was taken at the beginning and the winners were the side which had improved its share of the vote from the starting numbers.
The team advocating a ban won, engineering a complete reversal in the audience voting patterns.
A large part of the discussion was devoted to claims that college football in America distorts the educational mission of the institutions.
This is not really a major issue for university sport outside the US since it doesn’t play such a significant role in many other countries.
Elsewhere, however, the discussion focused on the health risks American football players run.
The allegations of the former NFL players came just days after the suicide of Junior Seau, an NFL All-Pro linebacker who retired from the game two years ago.
It is alleged that Seau was suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease which can be brought on by continued head traumas
It seems the only real way the disease can be diagnosed is after death.
It was notable that Seau shot himself in the chest rather than the head. This has made it possible to for his brain to be studied.
Last February, another player Dave Duerson did the same, and a post-Morten revealed CTE.
It’s not just American football which has come under the microscope recently for health reasons.
In ice hockey, especially in Canada, teams often have an enforcer. Rarely a skilled player, the enforcer’s job is it to take part in fist fights on the ice, in what are essentially pre-arranged duels.
In the sumner of last year, three enforcers died suddenly.
28-year-old Derek Boogaard died from a drug and alcohol overdose while he was recovering from a concussion.
A post-Mortem revealed he had also developed CTE. 27-year-old Rick Rypien committed suicide and 35-year-old Wade Belak seems to have done the same.
Ice hockey and American football are two pillars of professional team sports in the United States. The idea that health concerns might undermine their role would have seemed far-fetched even relatively recently.
Now, however, the threat is being taken more seriously.
Some football litigants are being advised by Thomas Girardi, a top class-action lawyer who oversaw the case featured in the film Erin Brockovich.
This led Slate magazine to openly ponder whether pro-football might become “the next big tobacco”.
This is something all team sports outside the United States should be watching closely.
The US is a huge sporting market but it has been difficult for even a global behemoth like football to gain traction there.
It’s not quite a zero-sum game, but it often seems like something needs to give in the traditional sporting mainstays, to free up some space for other sports.
Will America football lose its lustre? It’s hard to imagine, but it’s not impossible.
Then again, even a small slip might just leave the door ajar for other contact sports such as the two rugby codes and AFL.
Union arguably has an edge but there’s no reason other sports can’t entertain thoughts of building a more significant base.
All should now have an active strategy in place, especially if colleges do begin to review their football programmes.
The other message all sports should be heeding is the potential damage from litigation.
They need to ensure their own houses are in order and address any outstanding issues of player welfare.
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