By Ken Reed

A few weeks ago, the NFL settled for $765 million with a group of former players who sued the league over brain trauma-related injuries. In some people’s eyes, that ended this annoying “concussion issue” so we could all just go back to watching football.

But the NFL settlement isn’t the end. Not by a long shot. It’s only the beginning. There are currently multiple concussion-related lawsuits pending at the college level against the NCAA.

Chicago attorney Joseph Siprut, who’s seeking class-action status in his NCAA lawsuit, says significant changes have to be made in football, and the way the NCAA currently operates, in order to save the game.

“If changes aren’t made, the sport is going to slowly die,” says Siprut. If they can’t be reassured football is safe, parents will stop their kids from playing “and when the talent well dries up, that’s how the sport dies.”

High school football is the most vulnerable level of football. Once the football brain trauma lawsuits start piling up against public school districts, state high school athletics associations, and even individual public schools and their coaches, football in public schools is doomed. There’s no way high schools will be able to afford the liability and catastrophic insurance premiums necessary to continue offering football to students.

No, football won’t die completely at the youth and high school levels. Private club teams will form to replace high school football and youth football leagues run by recreation districts. But the overall number of young football players is sure to decrease dramatically as parents pull their kids from the sport and as high schools quit offering football in their athletic departments.

But college football is next on the hot seat, and the seat is bigger than the NFL’s. According to a report by Jeremy Fowler, “The scope of NCAA litigation potential over head trauma is broad when considering the volume of players (rosters of 105 players on 126 FBS schools) and no federal labor exemptions for schools (NCAA athletes aren’t employees).”

It’s important to also realize that what impacts the NFL and NCAA trickles down to the high school and youth levels.

“Given the number of schools and players involved, this directly connects to high schools and pee wee leagues, and this becomes the major national lynchpin to football in general,” says Michael Hausfield, an attorney representing several plaintiffs in a concussion lawsuit against the NCAA.

Meanwhile, back in the NFL, the fines and penalties against players committing helmet-to-helmet fouls are piling up after the first couple weeks of the 2013 season.

“I really don’t think the fines are helping,” says Kevin
, founding director of the University of North Carolina’s Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center. “Guys seem willing to shell out the money. I think it is going to take suspensions that end up being a wake-up call.”

Suspensions might not even be enough. One of the culprits, Tampa Bay safety Dashon Goldshon, confirmed Guskiewicz’ suspicions by how he reacted to being notified he was being suspended without pay for one game after his fifth unnecessary roughness penalty since 2011.

“The NFL has its own rules, but we’re just trying to play football,” Goldson told the Tampa Bay Times Sunday. “We’re not worried about those penalties, we’re really not. That’s just football.”

Meanwhile, more and more Americans are getting uncomfortable with the brain trauma issue in football.

[T]here is trouble lurking below the surface — not even below the surface, actually, right there, unavoidable, intractable. A beloved game has an unshakeable queasy feeling,” wrote Jason Gay in a recent Wall Street Journal column.

Queasy indeed.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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