Questions to Ponder: The NFL Settlement

Sometimes when I stumble across an interesting article in the paper, on the news, or online, I think to myself, "It sure would be fun to have a conversation about this issue."

But most of the time, I immediately get nervous. I avoid bringing up almost all remotely controversial topics. I'm afraid of causing a disagreement.

Somewhere along the line, I wrongly started believing part of my pastoral vocation was to live as a neutral person. Totally neutral. On all issues. #1 priority: avoiding disagreements. Agreeable Emily; that was always the goal.

Over time, I've realized this neutral approach to life actually isn't my vocational assignment. I'm learning that conversations about relevant cultural topics are imperative.

I'm learning how to share my real opinions on matters related to current events. Some people have this ability naturally and it isn't something they have to learn to do. That's great. But for me, it's something I have to practice.

Truth be told, when it comes to good conversations, I'm slowly accepting the fact that it doesn't really matter of everyone agrees or consensus is reached. Instead, it's more about increasing awareness and helping
 all involved parties to walk away from the experience feeling more alive and connected.

More and more, as I think about the skills I most want to encourage in myself and others, I think of the importance of....

-Meaningful conversations
-Compassionate debates
-Critical thinking

So, that's the background on this new blog feature: "Questions to Ponder." The goal is to provide commentary and talking points on relevant topics. I'm hoping this platform will be a way in which blog readers will feel more engaged and willing to comment. I'm also hoping this feature provides you with the tools you need to participate in informed, meaningful conversations on a range of topics.  

Issue at hand - Yesterday about 4,500 retired football players agreed to accept $765 million to settle their lawsuit with the N.F.L. The lawsuit alleged that the NFL knowingly concealed the risks of long-term brain damage and concussions associated with the sport. 

Key point: The settlement does not require the NFL to admit to any wrong-doing.

Quote from Chicago Tribune: "The settlement is considered something of a win for the league, which observers estimated generates annual revenue as high as $10 billion."

Pre-reading/listening - 

"In the end, settlement not surprising" (audio interview via ESPN)

Rules Trickle Down, Money in Settlement Won't (by Alan Schwarz of New York Times)

Personal thoughts - I'm not a football girl. I did play on a flag football league in 5th grade. And I went almost all of the Dunkerton Raider games in high school. They were very fun. That is where my love of the sport ended. Something about collegiate and professional football has always freaked me out. Probably the fact that the sport requires gigantic men to run into each other.

Clearly there is much more to it than that, which I understand. And I can certainly appreciate the amazing athleticism involved. I can also appreciate that millions upon millions of people adore football. I heard a commentator on ABC last night call football America's "secular religion." That's probably true.

I'm still forming my thoughts on this NFL settlement. I can say for certain that something about this settlement really isn't sitting right in my gut.

The professional season will begin next week. And nothing will be any different, right? Players will all be playing exactly the same? Just as violent as ever?

Aren't we at the point where we can all agree that actually, as beloved as the sport is, the way it is currently played is really dangerous? Not just to the brain but to the entire body? That more than a couple retired players are ending up with long-term brain damage? That even at the high school and collegiate level, playing football is correlated to brain injury?

Questions to Ponder

- What responsibility does the NFL have to its players: past, present, and future

-What responsibility do fans have to the players?

-Are there any implications on football played at other age levels?  

-What responsibility/liability to the players have for their own bodies and health since it is their own choice to play professional football?

-Are you concerned that we will all look back in the not-too-distant future and realize we were total boneheads for supporting the current style of play - even though we knew it was this dangerous to long-term brain health?

-How do you think we should talk to our kids/grandkids/youth about the violence of professional football?  Is it just part of the game?  Or is it something worth delving into more deeply?

-Would a less violent model be as successful?


  1. I will first off address not wanting to cause a disagreement and remain neutral on what may be controversial topics. In that respect, I will say that everyone is entitled to their opinion which may differ from the next person's. What everyone needs to realize is that while your opinion may differ, the other person's still needs to be respected, and then two people can have some good conversation.

    As for the football issue, something wasn't sitting right with me either as I kept thinking the players knew what they were getting into, but then I read that the NFL knowingly withheld risk information. That made it a little justifiable for the reason for the settlement, but then I guess I also have to ask...did the football players completely lack common sense? After all, usually one could usually conclude that banging one's head and body against another with force may have the potential for ANY kind of injury.

    1. Good point, Amy! I'm going to add another question to consider to the list on this posting! "What responsibility/liability to the players have for their own bodies and health since it is their own choice to play professional football?"

  2. Interesting stuff. I am a football fan, but I don't think I would want my son (or daughter, I guess) involved in the sport. As far as the settlement goes, it is a really small amount in the scheme of NFL football. I think the NFL gets $1 billion per year for JUST the Monday Night Football rights and this settlement is over 20 years.

    I think the main issues are probably with NFL players who are hit harder than college or high school players over many years. Part of me wonders if the really scary stuff we've seen from the players from the 60's and 70's won't happen as much now that they are watching safety a bit closer. We'll see I guess. The NFL is insanely popular and extremely profitable, so no one is going to change it much. That doesn't say a whole lot for our society.

    By the way, I happened onto your blog somehow and really enjoy it. I went to school in Denver (Iowa) and my parents actually live in a farm with a Dunkerton address and I have lots of relatives in the Stewartville/Spring Valley area. Small world :)

    1. Good thoughts; thank you for commenting. How fun that we have some similar Iowa and Minnesota connections! :) Welcome to the blog!

  3. General comment: Kudos for keeping an open mind and welcoming multiple opinions! From 15 years experience as a manager in our local computer company, I can say that "listening" and "letting others speak their mind" are extremely important communication skills. We all tend to apply personal filters to incoming info, but we learn so much more and grow when we "listen openly". So many different perspectives to be aware of before arriving at a conclusion we can really feel comfortable with. Some of my buddies and I meet for coffee and conversation once a week. It's fun and educational!

    NFL & Players: Anyone playing professional contact sports has to accept the fact that this is dangerous activity, and take personal responsibility for injuries.....unless caused by unsportsmanship conduct from another person. We look to the NFL to provide the safest environment possible. My personal opinion is that any risk data not shared, with the public or players, wouldn't have made any major difference in the player's decision to play ball. They risk their health for $$$$. And what about "extreme sports" .... people do it for the exhilaration and self satisfaction, maybe little fame and little $$; but go into it with full awareness of severe injury and even death.

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  5. I believe most people would say that the more 'manly sport' would be rugby, which is a harsh game with a great chance of injury. Patriots

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