The League

Jason Maloni
Crisis Communications Expert

Jason Maloni

Senior Vice President with
Levick Strategic Communications
and Chair of the firm's Sports & Entertainment Practice.

A Death Would Change Football


Carson Palmer's words carry a lot of weight. Here is an active QB coming out and talking about the violent nature of the game. But is not football's violence -- its danger -- part of the excitement of the sport?

While few of us know what it's like to be tackled by a 6'7, 300 lb defensive end, sports fans understand that it is a perilous game. Watching someone do something you could never do is part of the thrill of being a spectator. This isn't just a phenomenon with football. Fans of boxing, MMA, NASCAR, skiing, surfing and the various extreme sports watch for the same reason. We know that it takes superhuman ability to avoid getting hurt and completing that pass or crossing that goal line. This is part of the epic narrative of sport.

Injury and death isn't what we root for. Football has been a dangerous sport since its origin in the mid-19th century when it grew out of rugby. Organizers - sometimes at our highest level of government -have been refining the rules for over a century to make the game safer. More than 100 years ago, President Theodore Roosevelt summoned Ivy League coaches to the White House to demand reform of what he considered dangerous and excessively rough play at the collegiate level.

The NFL is cognizant that it needs to do everything possible to eliminate traumatic injuries. The league has taken great care to protect not just the quarterback but other positions as well by adding more than 20 regulations in recent years designed specifically to curb dangerous play. No one wants to see another spinal injury like in 2007 when Buffalo Bills' Kevin Everett lay motionless on the ground after an awkward collision. For every Kevin Everett, there are dozens of pro football players like Troy Aikman, Trent Green, Bill Romanowski, and Merrill Hoge whose careers are cut short because of head injuries. While less shocking than an on-field death, long-term brain injuries, collectively, present a greater threat to football's reputation. The NFL is wisely taking a good look at reducing the risk here.

It is hard to agree with Palmer that such a tragic incident is just a matter of time. As remote as this possibility is, the NFL should still be ready for that day when a player dies in a game following a collision. Good crisis planning takes into account not just the likely scenarios that can have a serious impact on a brand's reputation, but also the unlikely scenarios that can have a catastrophic impact. Any death is tragic but the impact of such an incident broadcast on national television would be magnified a thousand times.

If a death were to occur, regardless of whether it was due to malicious play or a freak accident, the tragedy could result in a dramatic shift in NFL policy. Even more serious would be the number of parents who decide their kids probably should take up a sport that is safer - like rugby.

By Jason Maloni  |  September 9, 2009; 11:51 AM ET  | Category:  Concussions , Medical , NFL , Roger Goodell Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Isn't That Why We Watch? | Next: Death Not an Inherent Risk


Please email us to report offensive comments.

It has happened.In 1971,Chuck Hughes,a receiver for the Lions,had a heart attack on the field and died.I think he had taken a hard hit just before collapsing.

Posted by: seanmg | September 9, 2009 3:18 PM

Hughes was not involved in the play in which he collapsed.

Posted by: hodag2 | September 9, 2009 4:03 PM

I wasn't clear about it,but I thought I read that he had been sandwiched by two defenders,perhaps on an earlier play.It has been almost 38 years.

Posted by: seanmg | September 10, 2009 1:27 AM

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