The National Football League CTE and the Lockout

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The National Football League has been a highly profitable and commended business for the majority of its 98 year standing. It has brought individuals within their communities together regardless of race, religion, or political views to share a common endearment in cheering on the same team. There are few things that are able to produce as much happiness within an entire city/state than a win from their local football team, which is perfectly understandable. Part of being a fanatic is getting caught up within the moment, but a large part of the fan base has been blinded to the fact that there has been a significant problem going on behind the scenes.

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Although it was brought to the forefront just over a decade ago, the NFL has seen a major drop in the credibility of their business ever since the discovery of the neurological brain disease named Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy(CTE). The disease has been developed by a large quantity of the former employers and has led to some highly tragic outcomes, mainly cognitive impairments and suicide. Instead of the NFL taking it upon themselves to improve this crisis by comforting those who are going through this disaster, they have chosen to do the exact opposite by denying any knowledge of its correlation and consistently disregarding questions by concerned consumers, employees, and journalists. It shows in all exterior ventures that the NFL’s unethical business tactics could potentially lead to their personal economic downfall. It has been shown in the past that no matter how powerful a corporation might be, if they do not uphold themselves in a principled manner, it will lead to its demise. These specific actions are what led to the NFL Lockout in 2011, which lasted 130 days and left consumers of the league without the organization they gravitate to, and employers without a job. Despite all the negative outcomes and publicity that have come the firms way from these unfortunate circumstances, there is still hope and strong possibility for recovery as long as there is open mindedness from league executives to do so. There are several directions that this corporation could analyze in regards to their current measures of treatment amongst its employers. For a corporation that was once highly revered for being the attainable goal of all other professional sports leagues within their market of competition, it is disheartening to those surrounding the league to witness what it has come to. There needs to be adaptations made, and they need to happen in a proactive manner.

On August 20th, 1920 in Canton, Ohio, the National Football League was founded on the principle of providing citizens within their communities an opportunity to gather in unison and share a common love for their respective team, improve the economy, and support pecuniary factors like employment and strengthening the economy. Although it only started with a mere 14 teams, the popularity and brand for the corporation took off. It did not take long before the NFL eclipsed Major League Baseball as the most lucrative professional sports business in the entire United States. Although it differed from the beloved atmosphere that was College Football, those who reached the NFL were true professionals, who played the game at the highest level of physical and technical skill(Oriard, 2). What you will tend to find in every successful model of business, however, is that competition is inevitable. In 1960, the NFL found itself at a clash with a newly founded professional football league, named the AFL(American Football League). Seeing the generated success that occurred from this, the NFL then decided in 1970 to purchase the rights to these teams in an attempt to expand the organization and create more parody for viewers. This business move is what resulted in the “modern” NFL, and the introduction to the Super Bowl era. For decades to follow, profit maximization exceeded itself almost every single year. That was until a doctor by the name of Bennet Omalu stepped in and made a shocking detection.

While doing a regular autopsy on hall of fame lineman Mike Webster, who tazed himself into a heart attack at the mere age of 50, Omalu immediately became aware that this specific post mortem was unlike anything he had seen before, due to the fact that Webster showed no signs of dementia or alzheimer’s, a common belief that was shared by his support group. This immediately sparked a curiosity amongst Omalu, and encouraged him to dive deeper into what could have been the actual reason pertaining to the death of Webster, and why he was engaging in such obscene acts and gestures. Although he was discouraged upon request by his bosses, Omalu went ahead with extensive research and was able to uncover shocking results. After numerous discussions with several different neuropathologists, he came into contact with a man by the name of Peter Davies. Omalu and Davies came to the conclusion that the brain being examined had a certain protein called “tau” that had accumulated inside nerve cells and tangled up well beyond anything these two gentleman had ever seen. This was believed to be an onset result of multiple blows to the head sustained throughout Webster’s lengthy career. The deterioration effects of the brain brought on by CTE leaves it looking black and rotten. After this study came into fruition, several other deceased player brains were observed by these men, and the same result occurred each time. When the NFL became aware of the studies that had been taking place, they refused to acknowledge Omalu’s claims and even went as far as to threatening him to shut down his research operation. Despite all the research that had been done to prove Omalu’s findings, the NFL refused to accept the work as credible, even establishing a council titled the “Minor Traumatic Brain-Injury Committee” to counter all claims made against the NFL and long term brain trauma. After employers took notice of this, they refused to comply with the firm’s current stance on brain trauma, and the players union came to the conclusion that they would go on strike, or a “lockout” in 2011.

The lockout was ultimately decided upon by the National Football League Players Association(NFLPA) in an attempt to fix the current rights under the Collective Bargaining Agreement(CBA) surrounding the league in light of these new findings on post career Brain trauma. The antitrust litigation filed by the players union was in response to league Commissioner Roger Goodell who planned on making no new revisions to health care among retirees, penalties regarding the safety of players, and higher wages to compensate the differentials of continuing to be apart of the workforce with newfound knowledge of post career health. After a long 4 months and 13 days without business activity, the labor dispute came to and end when the owners of the league and Goodell caved in and offered the players most of everything they asked for, and business continued into the regular season. Despite the temporary agreement that the firm and it’s employees have come to, there is a strong belief that when the new NFLPA revisions come to light in 2021, there will be another lockout. This can be attributed to the Firm’s inability to uphold their end of the bargain following the first lockout, as well as other unethical tactics that have been performed over the span since then. It is no secret that the NFL still needs to improve drastically to improve employee satisfaction, as well as consumer satisfaction.

In light of everything negative, the best policy adopted in 2013 following the Players Union Lockout attempts to estimate the appropriate amount of time to be missed upon suffering a concussion, and being able to evaluate the severity of the concussion sustained by doing several neurological tests that go over reflexes, eye movement, and cognitive function. Despite certain skepticism surrounding these tests(mostly those concerning the effectiveness and guidelines behind the practices), it has shown to be effective in terms of only letting a player return once they are fully ready to do so. Although it has received backlash from some impatient players and fans, the NFL appears to have done the right thing in this regard.

As detected from the graph above, one can uncover that those involved within the corporation are attempting to be much more diligent in terms of when they believe a player is ready to return. Another thing to note is that this chart measures statistics based off diagnosed concussions, which indicates that there very well could have been ones that went unreported, but it is far more likely that concussions are reported at a higher rate nowadays due to the growing concerns surrounding them. Overall, the policy makes it much more safe for players going through symptoms to definitively know when it is safe to come back, but at the same time it can frustrate them by keeping them inactive for longer than they desired. Although there was a long while where the league appeared to be stingy with their fiscal donations towards supporting brain research, in 2013 they partnered with the Head Health Initiative to invest $60 million into a program on major traumatic brain injuries, focusing on improving diagnostic accuracy with better imaging tools.(Underwood, 1). Unfortunately, most of the damage that occurs when a player gets violently hit cannot be seen on a traditional CT or MRI scan, as a result of this the only way to tell if a player is safe to play again is through precise yet unclear cognitive tests that at best can only give the clinician a strong estimation that the player is indeed ready. In hopes of this donation, the NFL also requested they look into possible ways of identifying early onset CTE. Along with identifying a concussion, it can be difficult to determine whether a person has definitive evidence of CTE, as the only way of official diagnosis is upon autopsy. Some of the money will also help researchers investigate how concussions lead to long lasting brain damage and whether certain individuals are more susceptible(Underwood, 6). There are currently no approved ways of testing the tau proteins, but the charitable donation from the NFL gets researchers one step closer to that premise.

When Dr. Omalu finally had his 3 year study on Mike Webster’s brain finished, stating that it was the first official diagnosed case of CTE, he received a call a short while after that the publishing of his paper had been retracted. It is incredibly rare for a paper to be retracted, and it usually only happens if the author is found out to be a fraud. Omalu was nothing near that of a fraud, he held several advanced degrees and took great passion in the work he performed, so he knew something did not add up. He was told that a “notable doctor” from the Journals Editorial Board reviewed his paper and found it to be insufficient, that doctor turned out to be Elliot Pellman, the chairman of the NFL’s handpicked MTBI committee(Laskas,12). Soon thereafter, Omalu was able to work with a legal team and other doctors to get his message out. The conclusive evidence brought forth is so strong, members of the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell were called to the House Judiciary Committee to testify. When asked by the house speaker if the NFL had any knowledge of relating concussions back to various cognitive diseases, Goodell repeatedly claimed he had no idea, and that the question would best be bested suited for a doctor. The problem here is that most people felt he was bluffing, he already had a bad track record up to this point(lying about domestic violence, unfair suspensions favoring specific teams, unclear drug policy, etc.) so shortly after this occurrence, controversy surrounded the league. After fans started witnessing the unethical and dishonest business dealings from the NFL come to light, viewership spiraled downward. Even players who were currently in the league started speaking out, an anonymous player came out and said “Of course we’re all scared, how could you not be?”

Feldman, Sarah, and Felix Richter. “Infographic: NFL Viewership Has Taken a Hit.” Statista Infographics, 6 Sept. 2018,

A significant way companies are able to generate satisfaction amongst former employees is to provide health care benefits long after retirement, especially if the corporation is elite and generates billions of dollars annually in revenue. Take one of the NFL’s competitors for example, Major League Baseball. An advantage of playing in the MLB is that it offers every single one of its retirees lifelong health care and pension benefits, where as the NFL simply does not. It is crazy to think that the league with the most violence and contact offers the worst forms of healthcare to its retirees amongst all major sports leagues. It is a well known fact that the majority of former football players will experience a number of conditions relating to their health, regardless if it has anything to do with brain trauma. This issue amongst retired players had become so poor, that the Hall of Fame Committee(made up of the greatest players of all time) decided to stand up against the NFL and even threatened to boycott future ceremonies if legislation did not pass. Eric Dickerson, former running back and leader of this initiative cited that “Many of us players can’t walk and many can’t sleep at night. More than a few of us don’t even know who or where we are. Our careers left us especially vulnerable to the dangers of this violent sport, especially those intentionally hidden from us.” This is a powerful quote coming from someone who is among the greatest to ever play, and it really opens your eyes to the situations these former athletes have to face on a daily basis.

The majority of people who are familiar with the NFL would tend to agree that Roger Goodell has had his fair share of problems during his 12 years as Commissioner. From his handling of domestic violence, inconsistent suspension policies, and of course his ways of going about the CTE crisis, it makes perfect sense as to why he is shouted down with an insurmountable number of fans booing him each year when he presents himself at the NFL draft. To his credit, he did inherit a mess that was brought onto him from former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, but it is how he responded to these issues that has given him such a negative perception among fans and players. Some have even gone to the media to express their frustration, including star linebacker James Harrison, who said “I hate him and I will never respect him” regarding a series of suspensions that he felt were unfair. A new face of the league who would be willing to perform proper acts of corporate social responsibility is well needed at this time, as it will give the league a fresh start and the ability to save its brand from further declination. Goodell’s contract extension will expire at the beginning of the 2023 season, and if he keeps performing the way he has, there desperately needs to be a new body of legislature in the front office. It is estimated by some, that in order for there to be an NFL season after 2021(when the new players agreement will take place) many will vouch for the termination of Goodell, and it could very well happen with the way everything has gone lately.

Upon extensive research, another thing found that most employees desire right now is the addition of neurology professionals specific to the team would be nothing but beneficial to players and the locker room as a whole. Instead of athletic trainers who claim to specialize in all areas for injuries, it seems that matters pertaining to something as serious as the brain would best be suited for a doctor who specializes in that specific area. The NFL would not have any problems affording this, and it would make the training staff much more elastic and better suited for team. Aside from this, if a player wishes to seek a 2nd opinion elsewhere, he should be encouraged to do so. Various NFL players have spoken out publicly stating that teams prefer everything stay within their own respective training staffs, but if a player desires further evaluation then he should not be looked down upon. Although the addition of neurologists to NFL teams would perhaps introduce a more conservative way of dealing with head injuries(sitting out for longer periods of time upon injury) the ultimate goal is to ensure player safety and protection, and this implementation would make it one step closer to achieving that objective.

So to uphold the longstanding tradition that the NFL has put forth, it must undergo some changes to keep the longevity and respected reputation for future years to come. The CTE crisis has been detrimental for all of those involved within the league, and the best thing the NFL could do at this point in time is adhere to the demands of those suffering from the disease and produce any settlements that will help those currently suffering as well as those who possibly might in the future, and compensate employees however they see fit. Aside from the establishment of a longer concussion protocol and partnering with certain research institutions since the latest lock out, there has been shady forms of business ethics on the NFL’s side. An attempt to hire new leadership and the fresh start of heading in a better direction would enhance the morality of the league and the way it is viewed upon by fans and players. A start from there on would preferably result in better health care and pensions among retirees, consistent rules and suspensions, and the addition of neurology doctors to the training staff. The NFL is at a low point right now, but the problems are fortunately still fixable, and will hopefully be done come 2021.

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The National Football League CTE and the Lockout. (2020, Jan 03). Retrieved from