Football is unquestionably the most popular sport in the United States. After all, it virtually owns a day of the week.
It has become so popular that fans continue to defend the actions of the Baylor University football program, which covered up the most egregious sexual assault scandal ever for the past two years, and recently, a congressional report found that the National Football League (NFL) unsuccessfully attempted to influence scientific research regarding head injuries sustained while on the gridiron.
The same 91-page congressional report details how at least a half-dozen NFL health officials, including league physicians and researchers, pressured the National Institutes of Health to strip a $16 million research grant from renowned Boston University brain injury researcher, Robert Stern, in order to prevent him from heading an NFL-funded study to investigate the affects of football-related impacts and neurodegenerative diseases such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease, and more.
The NFL originally pledged $31 million to the NIH for brain injury research, but once the NIH rewarded $16 million to Stern, the NFL backed out and demanded that the money go to one of their approved researchers, who as it turns out, were biased and planned to denounce the notion that playing football causes increased likelihood of developing pathological changes in the brain.
“In this instance, our investigation has shown that while the NFL had been publicly proclaiming its role as funder and accelerator of important research, it was privately attempting to influence that research,” the report states.
The NIH also said that this marked the first time a private donor attempted to compromise the integrity of research being performed.
The NFL’s behind-the-scenes charades and their attempts to belittle the dangers of the sport may have led to increased frequency of injuries or the severity of injuries if players neglected the dangers of extreme impacts such as head-to-head contact. Even worse, this may have led to adolescents in Pop Warner sustaining significant head injuries that could plague them for the rest of their lives.
Perhaps even more detrimental to the sports image is that two large-scale sexual assault scandals have taken place in the past four years, the Sandusky Scandal at The Pennsylvania State University and the aforementioned one at Baylor. Furthermore, a recent academic fraud scandal at Ole Miss illustrates the fact that football has perpetuated a culture of lies, fraud, and coverups of the most appalling order.
I believe in the next decade, football will be played much differently than it is now, and has been in the past, to reflect inevitable scientific conclusions that the sport is associated with the development of debilitating neurodegenerative diseases as a result of repetitive cranial impacts.
However, if the sport wants to maintain its image and popularity despite coming changes in gameplay, it better keep its nose out of scientific studies and start taking sexual assault cases and the health of its retired players more seriously.