The legal decline of football?

by Walter Olson on May 7, 2012

Numerous lawsuits have been filed lately against football teams over players’ brain injuries. If the legal system handles these lawsuits in line with the principles it applies to other mass torts, organized football could either go away or be transformed into a very different game. The Chicago Tribune editorializes on the subject and quotes me.

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May 18 roundup - Overlawyered
05.18.12 at 12:30 am

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1 Jerryskids 05.07.12 at 7:57 am

Perhaps the most important part of this story: DeMaurice Smith – a partner at Patton Boggs with no labor law experience – is now the head of the NFLPA, the NFL union. Will the threat of lawsuits be headed off by a settlement within the players’ agreement?

2 Mark 05.07.12 at 12:54 pm

I predict that within five years tackling will be prohibited and all the players will be wearing flags…

3 DensityDuck 05.07.12 at 3:01 pm

It’ll end up like “Real Steel” with everything being done by robots.

4 Ron Miller 05.07.12 at 3:27 pm

Mark, I have some money. Can I bet against you?

5 Melvin H. 05.07.12 at 10:22 pm

I predict within five or six years we will start seeing something similar in either boxing, ice hockey, or both–lawsuits over concussions, etc. like we seem to be seeing with professional football. (And within 10 years at college level, 10-15 years at high school level, and even down to Pop Warner football). It will be like the asbestos lawsuits with similar results.

6 David Schwartz 05.08.12 at 1:59 am

Actually, if the legal system were to mess with Football, I can pretty much assure you the legal system would be the loser. You want a way to get the average guy behind tort reform — that’s it.

7 Brat Magursky 05.08.12 at 8:33 am

The culmination of all this ?? at coin toss not only will the issue of deferment or goal defense be decided but the winner of the toss will get to choose the rules for that particular contest. Will it be one or two hand touch above waist, below waist or 1 flag\2 flag. Also, if one side is not happy with the instant replay challenge (yes they still blow those calls too) the loser will have the right to an appeal (don’t want to interfere with a team’s full due process rights). So by the time this is over every game will like a consolation pro bowl game on TV that runs way into the wee hours of the morning…I can’t wait. Good thing I have a Nook with War and Peace on it (the “Russian Lady” translation at that!).

8 Ron Miller 05.08.12 at 12:17 pm

I agree with David. There is new headwinds to the “let these guys kill each other, who cares?” worldview but the American people are not in a mood to make significant changes in pro football. I also don’t think many commentators are comparing football to asbestos for reasons to numerous to count.

Football has had just unbelievable growth over the last 20 years. This could be the first chink in the armor of football. They may have been wise to lock into long term tv deals.

9 Mark 05.08.12 at 1:14 pm

Ron and David, never underestimate the power of corporate fear of litigation/liability combined with the sensationalism of the media and the feeding-frenzy tendencies of legal professionals when they smell money in the water. While my comment about flags above may have been a bit of an exaggeration, I firmly believe that the amount of contact in the game will be greatly reduced over the next few years, to the point where football will become more “dance” and less “combat”. To the point about football’s growth, that simply means that the jackpot of money waiting for litigants and their representation becomes more and more tempting each year.

10 Ron Miller 05.08.12 at 3:17 pm

Let me make this prediction: no claim involving a professional football player will ever make it to a jury. These just are not viable cases.

11 John Bratt 05.08.12 at 3:30 pm

I think a simple rule change would largely solve this problem. Make it the same rule Rugby has been using forever: High tackles (shoulder & above) are illegal. Do it, and its a penalty. Do it twice, you sit out 5 minutes (or a series or whatever) and your team plays man down. Do it 3 times and you’re out, team plays man down rest of game. Problem solved.

12 Jason Barney 05.08.12 at 3:52 pm

Ron,

Isn’t there a difference between viable cases and those that make it to a jury? Countless viable cases settle, as they should. If you really wanted to make your prediction interesting you should bet that no claim involving a professional football player would survive summary judgment dismissal.

13 Ron Miller 05.08.12 at 8:30 pm

Funny, I wrote it, thought it was a little ambiguous on that point, but figured no one would be paying that close attention.

That’s my prediction, tho. These cases are going to get kicked out on summary judgment.

The idea of the cases just bugs me by the way. The NFL has no more knowledge than the medical and scientific community and I can’t think of a better definition of assumption of the risk.

John, you idea of tacking below the waist is incredibly dumb. It also incorrectly assumes that the only problem is tackling. By the way, there is a reason why only 11 people in the U.S. watch or play rugby. (Note: I work with John so I can abuse him a little bit.)

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