Collars must be getting mighty tight in the NFL legal department. Class action lawsuits keep piling up from former players suffering the long-term effects of injuries sustained in the League, and ugly incidents like the suicide of Junior Seau keep the issue prominent in the public consciousness.
Most of the analysis I’m hearing about this is pretty dire for the NFL. They’ve made rule changes in recent seasons to try to mitigate the risk of injury, and they’re planning more But it may not matter. Some are speculating that the NFL could be sued out of business, or that football might be banned altogether.
Here in America, we’re ruled by lawyers, so we’re used to hearing stuff like this. Lawyers file class action lawsuits all the time, cripple businesses all the time, and shut down industries all the time. It’s just another day at the office. But history shows us that it’s possible for even absolute rules to go too far, and this may be one of those times.
For if there’s anything in America that’s more popular than lawsuits, it’s football. And the decisions that come from these lawsuits may teach us that there are limits to what Americans are willing to let lawyers and judges take from them.
If the courts decide that the NFL is liable for these injuries, then by extension colleges, high schools, and pee-wee leagues are liable as well. And if that’s the case, then no more football.
I live in Alabama, so please believe that I am saying this without hyperbole: If a court decision comes down that brings an end to football, people will riot. I don’t mean that as an exaggeration to make a point. I don’t mean “riot” as another way to say “get real mad.” I mean “riot” as in, “burning cars in the street, smashing shop windows, and throwing Molotov cocktails at government buildings.” Capital “R” riot. Places where football means much more than life–like Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma–will absolutely blow up. Places where football means less than life but more than health–like Ohio and Pennsylvania–may get caught up as well.
After the dust settles from that, there will be significant pushback against the tort system in general and class action lawsuits in particular. The calls for reform (and payback) could change the way our legal system works. People will sit still for lawsuits against cigarettes and fast food and big cars. They don’t love those things like they love football. Attack it at you peril.