Bernard Pollard, a Baltimore Ravens safety with a penchant for injuring Patriots players, has stated in a recent interview that he thinks that with the way that the NFL is headed there will be a death on the field due to play and the NFL itself may cease to exist. Pollard is known as a hard hitting player whose concussion inducing hit last weekend forced a fumble by Patriots running back Steven Ridley, which was key to Baltimore’s win. Pollard stated that despite the NFL’s attempt to enact rules protecting player safety, coaches are still demanding faster, larger and stronger athletes making the game harder hitting with dangerous results. In Pollard’s words, “The only thing I’m waiting for … and, Lord, I hope it doesn’t happen … is a guy dying on the field. We’ve had everything else happen there except for a death. We understand what we signed up for, and it sucks.”
In the constant quest to outperform the competition, players have gotten stronger and faster and hits have become harder. At the same time there is increased interest in player safety and health during and after their careers. The many jarring hits that many football players receive over the course of their careers in the sport has been connected to the degenerative brain disorder, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy which can lead to dementia, confusion and depression. Autopsies of retired NFL players who have experienced mental deterioration have shown Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and early signs of the disease have been found in athletes as young as 21.
Pollard said that the long term sustainability of the NFL is at risk because of the risk to the players and the league’s adaptations to that risk. He said, “Thirty years from now, I don’t think [the NFL] will be in existence … I think with the direction things are going — where they [NFL rules makers] want to lighten up, and they’re throwing flags and everything else — there’s going to come a point where fans are going to get fed up with it.” New safety rules, such as banning certain helmet to helmet hits and new kickoff rules do draw the ire of fans but I don’t know many who are leaving the sport because of them. I think that it will get to the point, and it probably already has, where players know that they are engaged in a potentially damaging activity and are willing to accept the risk of dementia in later life in order to have a well-compensated NFL career.