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Social justice in the NFL

(Photo courtesy of the NFL) The logo for the NFL

Tanner Hume
Connector Editor

The NFL is known to have its fair share of controversies over its 102 years of operation, from concussions to the “Redskins”, to Dan Snyder as a whole. When it comes to the wider outlook of the league as a whole, what can be seen is a whole whirlpool of issues that have been placed on the backburner and not seen as major issues. Well, not within the last five to six years at least. With the call for more to be done to address certain issues outside and inside the football landscape, here are a few problems the NFL continues to have, as well as an in-depth look at how it changed the game for the better.

For a long time, the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) were not explicitly known. The death of former Steelers Offensive Tackle Justin Strzelczyk sparked the debate on a link between playing football and experiencing CTE. The leader of the CTE Research Team at Boston University, Chris Nowinski, has publicly stated, “A football player’s odds of developing CTE may be most determined by their parents, specifically what age the child is allowed to start playing tackle football, it’s time to accept that CTE is not just a risk for professional and college football players, but also for high school players, and the best way to prevent CTE among football players is to delay the introduction of tackle football.”

Over the last decade, former players have battled a joint-class action lawsuit against the NFL, battling for the right to seek treatment for years of getting constant blows to the head, because the NFL, before the lawsuit, did not cover players with health insurance. In 2013, the NFL settled for a total of $756 million. That case made concussion protocol within the NFL to change drastically, with spotters at every single game, and the increased ground being covered. In 2021, however, the NFL settled a different case: they settled to end race-based brain testing among former players.. This was another major step for equality for every player, active or retired.

Treatment of LGBTQIA players and prospects: The topic of equality for LGBTQIA is one that should never go unnoticed. But the treatment of incoming players and active players alike was questionable at the start, but has see dramatic improvements over the years. It first came into question in 2014 when incoming NFL Draft Prospect Michael Sam came out publicly as gay. The reaction was, at first, positive. But when it came to drafting Sam, he fell from the first round, all the way to the seventh round, when he was drafted by the then St. Louis Rams. He was initially a sure-fire first-round prospect, but turned into one of the most wasted talents of the 21st century. It was so bad that Sam defected to the CFL, and he is now seemingly out of football entirely. In 2020, Raiders defensive back Carl Nassib came out as gay and donated $100,000 to The Trevor Project, an organization to save the lives of those struggling within the community . The support for Nassib was strongly positive and vital for the image of the league and any LGBTQIA football players. Since then, the NFL has been a strong advocate for LGBTQIA rights.

Racism in the NFL: Racism has long been an issue within the league, even back to the early days of the league’s lifespan. In recent light, however, the question of racial equality in the league has come into further question. Earlier this season, former Raiders coach Jon Gruden sent emails of himself using racial and homophobic slurs, and calling Goodell an “anti-football p***y.” He was very obviously removed from his position via resignation. However, despite the action taken, other pressing issues about racism needed to be addressed. It is well known of the atrocity of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by former officer Derek Chauvin. The response by the league was quick and bold. They stood with those who suffer from police brutality and called for more racial equality in and out of the football landscape. Players, too, showed solidarity and heavily supported the BLM movement, and stood with the victims of racial discrimination.

The NFL has long had a history with controversies and social issues. There is still a long way to go for the league with improvements addressing these issues.

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