Published February 03, 2013
Extra Points: The Real 'State of the NFL'John McMullen, Sports Network
The Crescent City is all too familiar with storms.New Orleans is still rebuilding almost 7 1/2 years after Hurricane Katrina made landfall onto the Gulf Coast in August of 2005.Events like Super Bowl XLVII help tremendously and pump millions into the local economy, one which now supports just 65 percent of the people who called NOLA home the day before Katrina hit.Newcomers to Bourbon Street would hardly know the city was once under water. Things are back to normal and the party atmosphere which made the city famous remains.Locals remember, however, and they're all well aware that Mother Nature is always looming, ready to strike at their bowl-like city which resides under sea level.Perhaps the NFL should learn a thing or two from the history of New Orleans.Right now the omnipotent NFL is flying high, the undisputed heavyweight champion of North American professions sports.Tens of thousands of fans descended on the bayou this week to celebrate their favorite game, America's real pastime.Events were scattered throughout the city for a diverse fan base. A hardcore type could get his picture taken with the Lombardi Trophy at the NFL Experience, while foodies could mingle with some of the top chefs in the world at the Taste of the NFL.Things ramped up on Saturday with the Hall of Fame Selection Show on the NFL Network followed by the second-annual NFL Honors program on CBS, where 30 Rock's Alec Baldwin hosted and Academy Award nominated actor Jeremy Renner handed Adrian Peterson his MVP Trophy.By the time the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers square off on Sunday night for the game's ultimate prize, about 111 million viewers will be ready to tune in with endorsers paying $3.8 million per 30-second spot to seduce them.Predicting the end of this juggernaut seems silly right?Not according to Ravens safety Bernard Pollard, who boldly said the NFL wouldn't be around in 30 years earlier in the week."I stand by what I said. I'm entitled to my own opinion," Pollard said. "I play this game. I understand this game. For me, growing up, to see where the game has gone from then to now, it's a very special game, but it's changing."Changing by necessity.Hundreds of ex-players are currently suing the NFL under the premise that the league understood the long-term effects of concussions and withheld the information from them.Sure it's a money grab and almost every single name attached to any lawsuit would have signed a waiver even if they had all the information available today. But that means little in legal terms and thousands are lining up for a piece of a $9 billion dollar pie.The league has in turn tried to limit hard hits against defenseless players, something the hard-hitting Pollard thinks will eventually alienate the existing fan base, which could eventually turn on the product."They're talking about taking kickoffs away and playing only offense and defense," he said. "We can't change something that's been built.Even President Barack Obama chimed in on the subject of safety in football, intimating he's not sure if he would have let a son play the game, something Pollard actually agreed with."I have a son, and my stance right now is I don't want him playing football," Pollard said. "We want our kids to have better than we did. If he is gung-ho, I'll probably let him play, but I don't want him to."And therein lies the real issue threatening the NFL. A whole generation of parents are going to grow up thinking the sport is too dangerous for their children."Guys are getting bigger, faster, stronger," Pollard said. "You can put a bigger helmet on me, but it's still going top create the same contact. Things are still going to happen."Upping the fear factor for parents is the Boston-based Sports Legacy Institute, the non-profit organization, founded by Dr. Robert Cantu and former World Wrestling Entertainment star and Harvard football player Chris Nowinski,.which called for all state high school athletic associations to ban full-contact practices in the offseason.Tennessee Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and former NFL players Ted Johnson, Kyle Turley, Hunter Hillemeyer and Isaiah Kacyvenski joined Nowinski as a press conference at the Super Bowl media center on Friday with the goal to reduce concussions and chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease recently found by Boston researchers in six deceased former high school players, one of whom was just 17."Last year the NFL Players Association and NFL agreed to limit brain trauma by having zero offseason full-contact hitting practices and less than one a week during the season," Hasselbeck said. "The only reason it's not the same way in high school is that players cannot negotiate -- they have no voice. We are here to lend our voice for these young men."By nature that voice will only heighten the fears of parents already leery of letting their kids play a game which could bring them untold riches but also eventually cripple or even kill them.So what's the answer?"You keep playing football," Pollard said. "You're going to have your concussions and broken bones. As players, we know what we signed up for."The players do know. Others don't and that's the storm cloud on Roger Goodell's horizon.