Goodell Sounds Like Tobacco Executive Before Congress

Roger Goodell went with the "Big Tobacco Defense" before congress, which works about as well as the prevent defense.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
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    WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 28: National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell testifies with others before the House Judiciary Committee about football brain injuries on Captiol Hill October 28, 2009 in Washington, DC. A recent NFL study of retired players suggested that N.F.L. retirees ages 60 to 89 are experiencing moderate to severe dementia at several times the national rate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

    The studies and evidence are starting to mount — playing college and professional football, and the concussions that seem to automatically come with that, increase the chance of brain disease later in life.

    But when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell went before a congressional committee Wednesday, you would think he had taken advice from the 1990s attorneys for Phillip Morris last decade.

    Connection between our product and health risks? You can’t prove that, Goodell said. One Congress member even made the Big Tobacco annalogy.

    Much like the “Seven Dwarfs” of big tobacco firms in 1994, Goodell’s own company’s studies prove him wrong — it is the NFL’s study that started to show increased rates of chronic traumatic encephalopathy among football players. That is a condition that speeds deterioration of the brain and has shown to be far more likely in former NFL players, and now even some college ones, in studies done on their brain after those players died.

    Scientifically conclusive proof? Not yet, but things are starting to look that way and more studies are coming. We all pretty much know what the answers will be, it’s not some huge leap of logic to say multiple concussions in youth can lead to brain problems later.

    Simply put, Goodell knows better. But like the tobacco CEO’s, he fears admitting it would be bad for the health of his business, and that matters more than the health of his players.

    Of course, because this was before congress, there was political grandstanding. The Democrats threatened he anti-trust exemption if they didn’t get answers. Republicans went overboard the other way saying if you let Congress start regulating the NFL it will become flag football. Both came off as silly.

    Why is logic such a hard thing to find in Washington (it even seems to infect the Redskins)? What is so wrong with admitting there could be something to this, with Goodell saying the league will spend a little of the gigantic television contract it has to look more deeply and see if there are ways to lessen this problem? What is wrong with funding more concussion research, and maybe more helmet research, too? Yes, the NFL does a little of this, but it could take the lead. It could do a lot more.

    Most importantly, why doesn’t the NFL take ownership of the issue and find ways to help high school coaches recognize concussions? Many of the other speakers before congress talked about the need for education on concussions and treatment for the high school and younger age players. Why doesn’t the league try to bring about a positive change without having to change the core of the sport, to help youth coaches take a step back from the “strap it up and get back out there son” mentality?

    Eventually, the CEOs of “Big Tobacco” came before congress and did a mia culpa. Someday Goodell will need to as well, and that is what will be good for the health of the sport.