Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

27 Jan 2011

"Dangers of the Game" Health Report Revealed

Esquire has the exclusive scoop on the healthcare report that the NFLPA will be using as talking points in its fight with the NFL. You may also notice that some of the injury data used in the report comes from the Football Outsiders injury database.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 27 Jan 2011

43 comments, Last at 01 Feb 2011, 12:55pm by William Lloyd Garrision III


by sundown (not verified) :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 8:38pm

It's easy to see why the players aren't down with the 18-game idea. The average career is something like 3 1/2 years now--it could easily fall to 3 when you factor in more games. And the talk of dropping some preseason games to make up for it does next to nothing since starters don't tend to play all that much in the preseason. Plus, lengthening the season and exposing players to a greater risk of injury only underscores the fact the NFL is the only sport that doesn't have guaranteed contracts.

by BlueStarDude :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 10:24pm

I'm still trying to figure out why Goodell keeps shoveling it saying that they're trying to change to 18 games for the fans. Everyone I know thinks it's insane. It's obviously another biscuit for the owners.

by Jerry :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 10:42pm

For those of us who buy season tickets, replacing an exhibition game with a regular season game would be an upgrade. However bad that week 19 game might look, it'll be better than the preseason week 4 game where teams' primary focus is to get through the game without any starters being hurt. Most anyone you'd like to see is out after the first quarter, if he played at all. (I'd be fine with two exhibition games and 16 regular season games, but if they want that tenth home gate, make it meaningful.)

by DeltaForce (not verified) :: Mon, 01/31/2011 - 6:45pm

You don't think that if the product improves ... and that is what you as a customer are saying ... the price will rise as well? Pretty shortsighted if you think, same number of games, same amount of dollars. More regular season games = more dollars.

by Jerry :: Mon, 01/31/2011 - 7:30pm

Exhibition games are priced the same as regular season games, so there's nominally no change. And since prices increase frequently anyway, a further adjustment to reflect the improved product will have to outrageous to be noticeable.

by JFP (not verified) :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 9:41am

Is it probable that the league making so much noise about an 18 game season is just a negotiating smoke screen to get concessions from the players? If the league caves on the 18 game season they'll say they're dropping their main goal for the new CBA and expect some huge concessions from the NFLPA.

Possible or am I thinking about this too much?

by The Ninjalectual :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 10:18am

I agree, that seems likely. God I hate the NFL owners now. I am rooting for a lockout and for all NFL players to join other football leagues, where they will make money, and the owners make none. For that to work, the owners will have to lose that lawsuit that they negotiated TV contracts in bad faith, which seems likely.

by countertorque :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 5:51pm

As a fan of the NFL, I'm all in favor of more football. Two more games provides more entertainment for me. It also increases the likelihood that the best team will win the Superbowl. I'm fully aware that there are limitations and downsides to having more football. That doesn't mean I wouldn't like to have it.

I'm not sure why 16 is magically the right number of games per season. I don't hear any fans proposing to go back to 14 games.

by JonFrum :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 8:26pm

It wouldn't bother me to go back to 14 games - it's not like I'm counting through the season. I don't see how the length of the season determines whether the 'best' team wins the superbowl. Matchups and bounces of the ball have more to do with who wins. If you want the length of the season to determine who wins, you must think the Patriots should be the champion this year - they won the most games, and they beat the most good teams.

Sixteen isn't magically the right number. More than sixteen is going to just add injuries and grind down player's careers. Enough is enough - we're not taking about making a sit-com here.

by jebmak :: Sat, 01/29/2011 - 9:05am

I think that 16 is the magic number with this many teams and divisions. Every team plays four games against a team that finished in 1st, 2nd 3rd, and 4th place the previous year. I like the elegance of it.

by Nathan :: Sat, 01/29/2011 - 11:30am

I like the symmetry of 16 games. 4 divisions, 4 teams, 16 games. I actually feel like the season is a couple weeks too long though... right around this time I'm ready for it to be over.

by countertorque :: Mon, 01/31/2011 - 9:24pm

If the teams play enough games, randomness evens out and the better team will win more often. Two more games is a significant fraction of the regular season, so it should help the better teams overcome bad luck. And it adds 2 more match ups, which again gives the good teams more opportunities to overcome bad luck.

I do think the Patriots were the best team this year. I don't think the Jets could beat them again if they played next week. And I think it's less than a 50% chance that the Steelers could beat them. Of course, adding 2 games to the regular season will only help to get the teams seeded correctly. It won't improve the luck of the playoffs. What does picking the Pats have to do with making the season shorter or longer?

Players suffer life changing injuries for our enjoyment every week in the NFL. This isn't news. Every time this topic comes up I see posts stating "I don't know any fan who is in favor of increasing the season to 18 games." Well, here I am. I'm in favor of it. I miss the NFL during the off season and I'd like 2 extra weeks of it.

by An Onimous (not verified) :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 6:21am

The reason the average career length is 3.5 years has nothing to do with injuries and everything to do with the fact that the majority of the players who enter the NFL are not NFL-caliber players, so they wash out of the league within a season or two. In addition, even the players who wind up being replacement level ("replacement" in this instance referring to the quality of the best street free agents) quickly get cast off because minimum salary is based on years of experience, meaning younger players can do the same thing for less.

by herm :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 12:19pm

I think you're forgetting something there...

by William Lloyd Garrison III (not verified) :: Mon, 01/31/2011 - 4:01pm

I didn't see this before I posted the same reply. Also, I don't believe that the average player dies at 53 due to injuries incurred, haunting Earl Campbell picture nonewithstanding. This figure is twisted too.

I say this is as someone who played tackle football for many years. I know it hurts and I have some leg problems that bug me everyday as a 35 year old. But nobody is forcing these folks to play this game, and they certainly do make alot to play it.

However, I think they should probably get a bigger piece of the pie, and I think that the lack of a truly free market (the NFL is cartel) is the problem; it introduces the dysfunction of a union, which is a necessary evil given the circumstances--but a dysfunction nevertheless. The NFL itself doesn't want to address this, because it's not in their short term interest, so we will go around and and around on the issue, with exaggerations and "studies" about 18 game seasons, concussions, and 3.5 year average careers being thrown about ad nauseum.

by c0rrections (not verified) :: Mon, 01/31/2011 - 5:36pm

How would you have a sport league not be a cartel? Do you want a whole bunch of competing leagues where we get multiple champions? Because that's the only way it won't be a cartel.

by tuluse :: Mon, 01/31/2011 - 10:18pm

Professional soccer

by William Lloyd Garrison III (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 9:58am

I am not sure that the threat of a viable competing professional football league is all that real at the present. It also seems you are implying that this type of competition is a bad thing, and I disagree with that wholeheartedly Sometimes it is (AFL) and it works out for the better, sometimes it isn't (WFL, USFL, XFL) and it crashes and burns--but it's fun while it lasts and the game evolves in some important way at the NFL ends up imitating a nugget or two from the folded upstart.

If the NFL is going to do things properly, it needs to hold it's owners accountable to a measure of transparency that it doesn't currently do. These guys claim poor, and maybe some of the are, but in reality they move profits, losses and expenses into other ownerships and franchises that they own. Baseball owners do this to. i.e. will define what should be marketing outlays or stadium upkeep for two in a region onto the books of just one team, etc. No honest picture can emerge this way, and you get this silly dance and lockout threats as a result.

by William Lloyd Garrison III (not verified) :: Mon, 01/31/2011 - 3:47pm

Is the average career for "good" players 3.5 years, or is that a twisted stat? When you include all of the folks that only get one look and then they are out due to not being good enough--what's the real average?

My guess is that the "average" player with NFL starter talent has a career of 7-10 years. I have no research to back that up, but that's my instinct.

So much propoganda on each side...it's hard to get to the truth. Owners are losing money--but won't show their books. Players don't want 18 game seasons, but forget to point out that good teams play 18 games a year anyway. Sometimes 20.

I am with Antonio Cromartie on this one.

by Dean :: Mon, 01/31/2011 - 4:42pm

Owners aren't claiming they're losing money.

Players and people who want to distort facts in support of the players cause are confusing shrinking margins with losses.

The Packers made $9 million. ESPN Radio on St. Louis reported on Friday that the Rams allegedly made $4 million, but as that's unaudited and comes from sources within the Rams, it's wise to take that number with a fairly large grain of salt.

The problem with opening the books, if you're the owners, is that as soon as you do, it allows others to sit in judgement over you and tell you how much profit you are "allowed" to make. If you run your business well and make more than what someone else makes, you're not being savvy, you're now "greedy" and "unfair." And no matter what the number is, there will be people who are going to tell you it's too high. Opening the books simply allows the successful to be punished. And it's not like you could trust the players association to keep that information confidential. After all, it's no longer a partnership, its a war.

Oh, and I should also add that aside from that one sentence, I pretty much agree with the rest of your post.

by Jerry :: Mon, 01/31/2011 - 7:35pm

Two other problems with opening the books: (1) Salaries paid to family members and related-party transactions like paying stadium rent to an entity that's owned by the the same people who own the team become obvious. (2) It's much harder to go to governments and ask for a multi-hundred-million dollar stadium when people know how profitable you are.

by William Lloyd Garrison III (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 10:11am

I have twice said that owners are claiming losses, and you point out that they are are in fact just complaining about shrinking margins. Fair enough, I will change my langauge.

But...publically traded companies all have to post their earnings and margins, and the market rewards or punishes them accordingly--so this concept is neither novel nor unfair. Why does the NFL necessarily have to be immune from these market pressures? Perhaps there is a good reason, and lots of companies stay private to avoid this limelight--so I am not saying one direction or the other is "better". But it does seem to me that the league probably forfeits that privacy by being a protected cartel, and by operating in (many) stadiums that are in large part publically funded.

The persistance of labor strife like this only exists in dysfunctional markets.

by Dean :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 11:30am

They are "immune" because they are not publically traded. By the same token, you cannot find earnings information for, say, Fidelity Investments, because it is privately held. As you and I are not attempting to buy the company, its financial shape is none of our business. Likewise for NFL franchises.

The reason finanical information is published about pubically owned/traded companies is so that a potential investor can make an educated decision about whether or not they wish to buy the company (or, in most cases, a small fraction of the company). It is NOT because the public has any sort of intrinsic "right" to know this information. If there was a practical way to put it exclusively in the hands of shareholders and all potential shareholders (much like how a prospectus is provided to potential investors in a new bond issue), that's how it would be done.

by William Lloyd Garrision III (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 12:55pm

Government agencies are not immune from the requirement to publish clear financial information, because they are spending taxpayer money. And larger non-profits are required to publish detailed financial disclosures, because they are afforded certain market and tax exemptions or protections. So no, investor relations are not the only reason that drive the requirement for financial disclosure requirements.

If you get public funding for your stadium, or if you share in revenue that is gained from playing in a league that has stadiums built with billions of dollars of taxpayer funds, then you probably fit into the category of entities that should have to give an honest accounting of what your P&L looks like. Especially if you are afforded the protections that a cartel is--and I won't even bother to go into how the NFL owners benefit from the cartel protections granted to the NCAA.

To put a bow on it, the owners are exaggerating and even lying about how much they make. And they have imposed a wage/price control on their workforce, which perhaps is, or perhaps isn't in the best long term interest of the game. This is not a truly free market for labor, hence the requirement for a strong protective union. Put the two together and you will get some havoc from time to time.

by Benmzion (not verified) :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 12:55am

Players (and espn, which is essentially a collection of hero worshiping lapdogs) are the ones who insist that changing the game to make it safer is totally unacceptable. Players (and once again, espn!) are the ones who went after Jay Cutler for not playing hurt. There are a lot of elements standing in the way of making football safer, and many of them are card carrying members of the NFLPA.

Frankly, the NFLPA needs to get their own house in order before they try to put forth this argument. They need to go to their members and impress upon them the importance of this stuff. As long as half (more?) of their membership are too macho to admit any personal frailty or show any willingness to adjust to make the game safer, they will flat out fail to make this case. It just isn't credible coming from them. (I say this as someone who would be perfectly happy to see the nfl season stay at 16 games.)

by huston720 :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 12:07pm

I totally agree with this, and it is something that no one is discussing in the media. Also the safety issue and the 18 game schedule shouldn't be tied quite so closely together in my opinion. What makes an 18 game schedule with two bye weeks so much worse than an 16 game schedule? Why is a 16 game schedule the magic number? If the game is too unsafe then it is too unsafe for 18 games then it is too unsafe for 16 games. The focus should be on reducing injuries not on how many games are being played.

Also lost in the debate is that an 18 game schedule with 2 bye weeks would mean players with lesser injuries will be able to return at the end of the season.

First and foremost the league and players need to work on ways to reduce the number of injuries regardless of the length of the season.

by JonFrum :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 8:28pm

Howsabout I hit you with a ball-peen hammer 16 times, and then ask you if you want 2 more. And I'll give you 2 'bye minutes.'

by Benmzion (not verified) :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 11:11pm

The analogy doesn't really fit. Among other things, as already discussed, many of the the players are the ones who keep insisting that the violence (such as helmet to helmet hits) are indispensable parts of the game. And if playing football is akin to being hit by a hammer, they probably wouldn't want to do it 16 times, either. It is not as if 16 games of football is strictly "safe", after all.

I have my doubts that the game of football can be made much safer than it is, but the union cannot at once point to player injury rates as a reason for their resistance to the extra games while the majority of their membership refuses to make any safety accommodations, at all, to the game as it stands. (Cognitive dissonance is not a very convincing negotiation position.)

Anyway, it seems like time off would be a good solution to the concerns about extra games. If not an extra bye week, why not force every team to sit every individual player for at least 4-8 quarters (or two games, whichever) during the season? Assuming 8 quarters of mandated "rest", that's 11% less a player can play in an 18 game season, so increase rosters by 5-6 players.

No doubt players would resist (there's that cognitive dissonance again!) but it might even be fun in the sense that it would add a neat little strategic wrinkle to weekly roster moves. Owners get their money, players don't have to play more and maybe we get a 2011-2012 season! (That's really all I want out of this.)

by William Lloyd Garrison III (not verified) :: Mon, 01/31/2011 - 3:50pm

Oh, I think professional football could be made a bit safer. Police steroids and PEDs, and you will make the game a bit slower and smaller. Probably won't do anything to the viewer experience, but would defintiely make things 10% safer. A made up figure, but you get the point.

by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 11:12am

If 18 then.temas should give platers mire breaks like baseball and nasketball.

by Barry (not verified) :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 12:26pm

Hey NFL.....I'm a fan, and I'm perfectly happy with the current 16 game format. In fact, I think an 18 game format is bad for the game, so please don't push this through on my behalf. Every time you increase the length of the season, all you do is diminish existing legacies by making established records within reach of lesser individuals.
Look at how many hall of fame players who played in 12 and 14 game eras have "ordinary" stats compared to todays players. Increasing the season to 18 games is just going to make this even worse. Leave it alone....it's working well.

by andrew :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 1:33pm

So does this mean you're not on Roger Goodell's christmas card list anymore?

by andrew :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 1:36pm

Okay, so overall # of injuries go down in postseason... but percentage of those injuries that are brain injuries goes up.

That doesn't really mean that brain injuries are more likely, does it? You could have a scenario where those injuries also go down, just not as much as non-brain injuries, and still have such a scenario. I'd rather see that chart straight up, not as a percentage of overall injuries..

by countertorque :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 5:55pm


by B :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 6:21pm

I'm not in favor of more games, but I am in favor of moving the Super Bowl to President's day weekend. Maybe we could start the season later.

by erniecohen :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 6:55pm

Frankly, I don't see how the report argues against an 18 game season. The thing that jumps out is that, unlike baseball pitchers, injury risk per game doesn't seem to be going up with workload. So that means that career length - measured in games, not years - will go up, not down. The whole player safety argument is a pile of BS; they (rightfully) want to be paid proportional to the emount of work.

by JonFrum :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 8:30pm

Injury per game doesn't have to go up for injury per season to go up.

by erniecohen :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 9:07pm

Injury per season would go up, but it's not relevant. Isn't the right measure of career length the number of games?

by BaronFoobarstein :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 9:20pm

Totally depends on perspective. But for the players, the answer should probably be that it's measured in pay. Which means it's a wash if pay goes up per season to stay at the same amount per game.

by erniecohen :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 10:42pm

Exactly. The players break even as far as careers limited by injury. But most career lengths are determined by other factors - skills declining with age, competition from new players - and for these players, career length (measured in games) would go up.

by Aaron Brook's Good Twin (not verified) :: Sat, 01/29/2011 - 2:30am

Career length measured in games should stay the same. Career length in seasons should decrease.

Your odds of getting injured are exposure-based, not annual.

by erniecohen :: Sat, 01/29/2011 - 9:24am

Career length in seasons might decrease, but it might not because there will be an increased demand for players. For example, they might need a roster expansion, as the number on IR by the end of the season will go up by 10% (though the report indicates that this is likely to be swamped by the increases coming from other factors).

Career length in games would remain the same if players continued to play until they got hurt. But most players don't leave the league because of injuries.

by the cat in the box is dead (not verified) :: Sat, 01/29/2011 - 4:49am

I would wonder about the 'just one more game' factor that might come into effect when the playoffs near, and would cause players to try and suck it up and play through stuff that they might previously seek attention for. Concussions would be the ones that you can't actually hide (and possibly more likely to recur, cumulatively? I'm not a medical professional but that's what I'm reading everywhere).

Forgive my ignorance, but is the injury report based on reported injury rates or something like number of games missed? I ask because I don't see how the guy who plays with, for example, a bone bruise on the knee, or an injured wrist which he should really get treated, has that injury accounted for in the statistics if he's thinking 'my season might be over in a week anyway, I'll get it fixed then,' and not reporting it.