The future of the NFL looks dystopian

The future of the NFL looks dystopian

Photo Credits: KATHERINE FRANKS / AGGIE

The NFL will never be safe enough

We’re a century into the NFL, and I’m not entirely sure if the league is the best or the worst it has ever been. Ratings are spiking in a year when it seems like the amount of injuries are the same, and bad officiating is at its most prevalent. The NFL has addressed issues of social justice but lacked the discipline to diversify its coaches or protect its players and communities from coaches with major domestic abuse red flags. 

Is there a healthy future for a sport that has so many inherent problems? The violence of the sport is attractive to many but damaging to the players. 

This league’s greatest assets are built to break down. The human body isn’t meant to play football. With players of Andrew Luck’s caliber retiring so suddenly this year, the NFL needs to face the reality that its game is a fragile one — not even new technology or analytics can save it. 

I have no doubt that certain technologies can make the NFL safer. Helmets with thermoplastic urethane cushioning are absorbing more impact than ever, nano-spectrums of light help assist in the reduction of injuries and helmet sensors monitor physical deceleration to detect concussions. But I worry that technology will never make the game safe enough

We can build helmets that limit the consequences of helmet-to-helmet contact, but we will never be able to build helmets that prevent concussions. As long as football is a contact sport, there will be concussions. Potentially concussion-causing hits happen every single play, every single game — and they are celebrated and highlighted every single weekend. 

Just last week, the NFL announced a partnership with Amazon Web Services to use cloud computing and analytics to better understand how and why head injuries occur. Using machine learning and data science to solve the NFL’s concussion crisis sounds fantastic, but eliminating concussions in a sport this fast and painful is an unsolvable problem.

New state-of-the-art facilities are getting players in better and smarter shape than ever. As a result, players are able to decrease chances of non-contact injuries and perform at levels we’ve never seen before. But it is also making players stronger and faster, which leads to more powerful collisions on the field.

In the race for profit, owners are pushing for an 18-game season when the current 16-game season is barely manageable. The future of scheduling is where the NFL always finds its future: in college. College football kickoff times are perfectly spread out on Saturdays so that games are staggered all day — you can watch as much football as you want. In the NFL, 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Sunday time slots are killing watchability because every single game takes place at one of those two times. That’s like telling fans they can watch as much football as they want and then restricting them to only three games. Altering the schedule to mimic college football kickoffs would increase revenue and television ratings without jeopardizing the health of players in an 18-game season.

But who knows what the rules will even look like in five years. Will defenders still be allowed to sack the quarterback? The future of football is coming fast, and right now we are hurtling toward an inflection point that could drastically change the game. 

It is not hard to imagine a world where the NFL no longer exists. It is much harder to imagine a world where the NFL maintains its success while being substantially safer for players. If there is one inevitable conflict for the NFL, it is the balance between profitability and player safety. And so far, the league has shown its favor for profit every time. 

This will forever be the dichotomy of the NFL. New advancements will make players safer, but how safe is safe enough? How much more damage are we willing to allow these players to suffer? The NFL is just fine making billions of dollars for as long as we let it — profit is its only end goal. 

Ultimately, the sport will never be safe enough. The balance that the NFL desires between safety and profit is a false hope. 

Written by: Calvin Coffee — cscoffee@ucdavis.edu

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