By On February 14th, 2019

The Return of the XFL and Alternative Football Leagues Celebrates The Dark Days of Football

Image Source: WWE.com

While the NFL continues to make changes aimed at reducing the number of brain injuries in the league, a vocal contingent of fans bemoans the loss of “real football”. Now, they are getting what they’ve been asking for with the recent launch of the Alliance of American Football and the upcoming return of the XFL.

Of course, this was probably bound to happen. Even beyond the NFL’s recent concussion problems, it remains mired in other political controversies which threaten to divide the fanbase. Entrepreneurs looking for their chunk of the $20 billion a year professional football business are smelling blood in the water.

The real question is whether the creation of these leagues is responsible or ethical.

As For The Win writer Chris Korman recently explained, “allowing wide receivers to get blown up over the middle and QBs to be leveled with shots to the chin is almost certainly a viable short-term business approach.”

Even the NFL recognized the value of this type of football. It’s marketing was built around exactly the type of brutal football seen in the opening weekend of the AAF. Surely everyone still remembers the NFL commercials that highlighted the most devastating blocks and tackles that ruled advertising blocks not too long ago.

What has changed is our understandings of the brain and our recognition of just how poorly we understand the long-term effects of brain injuries. Even chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the brain disease found in a staggering number of former NFL players, is still a relatively recent discovery.

As Korman says: “There’s still so much we don’t know about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and further research, which was stymied by interests trying to protect football, is going to take years upon years, but we know it affects enough players that all reasonable precautions should be taken.”

We are often rough on the NFL as it struggles to maintain a progressive stance while balancing its business interests. It has often mishandled the issue and has been practically forced into adopting new rules and regulations to decrease the rates of brain injuries throughout the league. Still, the league deserves recognition for the improvements it has made over the past decade.

It is easy to romanticize the days of “real football” and no-holds-barred aggression on the field. What you don’t see in those brutal commercials, however, is the long-term effects of those explosive hits and collisions.

Junior Seau committed suicide in 2012 and was diagnosed with CTE post-mortem.
Image Source: Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Sports

We are just now seeing some of the fallout from the more violent days of the NFL – the suicides, the disabling memory and behavioral issues, and the devastating effects of CTE on the families of these athletes.

Celebrating the launch of these new aggressive leagues is like applauding a ticking time-bomb. It is exciting at the moment, but eventually, it is going to wreak havoc unless we recognize the looming dangers now.

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