Scrutinize NFL after Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest

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Given that professional football is such a violent game, the health care of players should be of higher concern. For years, experts have questioned whether the NFL makes the requisite investment in the health care of its own players.

The issue that has long haunted the NFL is now boiling to the top with the injury of 24-year-old Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin. His cardiac arrest during a Monday night football match between the Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals on national television is sparking debate about what the NFL ought to be doing to protect the well-being of its players.

As Hamlin remains in critical condition and is reportedly on a ventilatorthe spotlight is on the NFL which currently doesn’t have lifetime insurance for players.

In 2019, San Francisco 49ers’ cornerback Richard Sherman told the Athletic that health care was a key wish for bargaining players.

“I think the most important thing for our players, honestly, and it’s things that I think some of our players lose perspective on while you’re playing, is long-term health,” Sherman said. “And, being able to afford and to get that long-term health once you’re done.”

In fact, in 2017, a Harvard University studyamong its top recommendations, stated that, “The [NFL Players Association] should consider investing greater resources in investigating and enforcing player health issues including covering players’ rights to medical care and treatment.”

The millions the NFL doles out for high-profile quarterbacks and star players tend to get media attention. But the salaries of the average NFL rookie are far smaller.

For example, Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers is expected to make $50.3 million as part of the top ten earners for the 2022 NFL season, while the average rookie for the incoming class last year made a minimum of $705,000.

Longtime Detroit television producer Tony Mottley, who started his journalism career covering sports in the 1970s and subsequently worked for a sports agency that catered to NFL players, says the Hamlin incident provides an instructive moment for the nation to examine the state of the NFL.

“Since I witnessed former Detroit Lions receiver Chuck Hughes tragedy at Tiger Stadium in 1971 against the Chicago Bears, I have closely followed college and professional football,” Mottley said. “I know the dangers of the violent collisions that players participate in and the pressure that players face when determining the difference between pain and injury.”

“The pressure on players to continue to play even when injured is known and expected,” Mottley continued. “A player unwilling to pay the ultimate price, even risking catastrophic injury, is high. Those that refuse the risk are typically cut from their teams.”

Mottley said the Hamlin incident raises an important question for the league: Is the danger and violence on the NFL field sustainable?

“Pro football offers glamour, gladiatorship and bloodlust that American television audiences love and are hungry for,” Mottley said. “No one wants to see the fear and tears we witnessed during the game where Hamlin was injured, but this, too, shall pass. The broadcast rights and fees that networks are willing to pay for NFL football increase exponentially every cycle. There is no end in sight.”

Mottley continued: “The real question is, why do the players participating in the most violent and dangerous professional team sport receive the shortest contracts and the lowest pay compared to other team sports? Most players’ medical benefits expire within seven years of their playing careers ending. Many don’t discover long-term health issues until after their benefits have expired.”

He added: “If the NFL was forced to pay salaries and medical benefits requisite to the injury risk that players undertake, the game’s rules would change, making pro football much less violent.”

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

bankole@bankolethompson.com

Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which broadcasts at 11 a.m. weekdays on 910AM and “Sunday Nation,” on Sundays at 1 p.m. on MyTV38 WADL-Detroit.

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