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NFL coaches and owners need to stop downplaying the risks of football

Jim Irsay

There are some who would have you believe there's a war being waged against football. Whether or not that's the case, the worst thing the game can do is underestimate the case against it and downplay the risks assumed by those who play it.

In the so-called War on Football, it's the worst defense strategy out there. And it's the only one NFL coaches and owners are using these days.

Here was Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians last week:

“We have this fear of concussions that is real but not all of those, I think, statistics can prove anything. We’ve got new helmets coming out. We’ve got new safety issues. There are more concussions in girl’s soccer than in football at that age. The number two sport with concussions is women’s soccer but no one says we’ve got to stop playing soccer, alright? It’s the same thing with knee injuries. There are more knee injuries at 8 to 12 in soccer than football. You can find all the statistics you want if you want to crucify something."

Here was Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones denying an established link between football and CTE, during the same week NFL senior vice president for health policy and safety acknowledged a link between football and CTE:

“No, that’s absurd. There’s no data that in any way creates a knowledge. There’s no way that you could have made a comment that there is an association and some type of assertion. In most things, you have to back it up by studies. And in this particular case, we all know how medicine is. Medicine is evolving. I grew up being told that aspirin was not good. I’m told that one a day is good for you…. I’m saying that changed over the years as we’ve had more research and knowledge."

And here was Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay speaking to Sports Business Journal:

“I believe this: that the game has always been a risk, you know, and the way certain people are. Look at it. You take an aspirin, I take an aspirin, it might give you extreme side effects of illness and your body … may reject it, where I would be fine. So there is so much we don’t know.”

Irsay again:

“Look at it: When you get into Olympic bobsledding — I could sit down and name a dozen different sports — it has always been a known factor that you know you are going in there and you are taking a risk.”

Pointing out other sports are dangerous doesn't make football any less dangerous. Pointing out possible side effects of taking an aspirin doesn't make football any less dangerous. And, sure, science may be evolving, but is there any chance at all that 20 years from now scientists discover that abnormally large men repeatedly banging their heads into each other for years on end is any less dangerous than we think it is today? If anything, isn't there a much greater chance science will move even further in the direction it's currently going -- where the brains 87 of 91 former NFL players studied found evidence of CTE, spanning every position but kicker?

It's understandable NFL owners want to avoid any smoking gun comments that will crack the goose that lays their billion-dollar eggs. These men collectively own a league -- not the entire sport -- but their comments have a trickle-down effect that will lead to consequences for every crevice of the football world. And equating the risks of football with aspirin and bobsledding is the absolute height of foolishness.