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October 28, 2013

Concussion Conclusions

I'm torn on the recent spate of journalism on concussions in the NFL (and all football). After watching and reading a bunch about it, I'm left with two opinions:
  1. Concussions are bad and it is a shame the NFL has obfuscated, ignored, and lied about it for so long, rather than just helping to fix it. They should get compensation from the NFL for this.
  2. These people get paid hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars a year partially because of the danger inherent in the job. If the job is safer, they should be paid less.
I'm not sure which opinion, if either, is more important. But, if we are making the game of football less dangerous, than shouldn't we also lower the pay we provide to watch these players enjoy the game?

The average NFL career is three years. For 2013, the base NFL salary for a Rookie is $405,000. The average American yearly income is around $50,000 (it's hard to nail down a precise figure, as there are a lot of variables involved, especially as the wealth gets less evenly distributed. Most sites seem to agree on around $50,000). NFL rookies get paid eight times what the average adult income per year is -- and this is the amount given to the work-a-day rookies. It does not include signing and roster bonuses or various incentives. A third year player can earn a base salary of over $600,000 plus bonuses -- or 12 times the average American salary per year.

Part of this salary, and part for any sports league's high salaries, is based on the short career due to the high potential for injury and even death while playing. Part of the high salary is also simple economics; they can ask for it, due to the high revenues, so they get it.

These salaries have always assumed that NFL players will be somewhat broken down when they retire from the sport, and the high salary is partial compensation for that fact. After three years in the NFL, the average player will have somewhere north of $1.2 million in base salary. This same amount would take the average American salaried employee about 24 years to earn, in their (supposedly) less dangerous and more stable work environment.

The best I can determine is that the average career length for a police officer in America is around five years. The average salary is somewhere between $35,000 and about $50,000 per year, depending on where they are providing law enforcement. The police's job is at least as subject to injury and death as an NFL player's career, so why don't we pay our law enforcement personnel better?

Firefighters get an average between $40,000 and $50,000 per year, depending on location. Their lives are at risk every single time they go to a fire, and yet they only earn up to the national salary average?

Many teachers work in sub-optimal conditions, where their lives are threatened on a weekly basis. Yet the national average for teacher salaries is at approximately $35,500 -- and is only that high because of higher base salaries in the worst areas, like New York, New Jersey, and California. Not only are teachers' lives threatened constantly, their careers are constantly under threat from politicians, funding, and vindictive students and parents. They have to constantly make do with less, and spend a disproportionate amount of their salary on at-work requirements that cannot be found in other professions -- meaning they make even less than the national average if you take into account all of the books, resources, "free" coaching/theater/tutoring/music/etc., and other services they provide out of their own pocket each year. And yet they have one of the most important jobs in the world -- educating the next generation of workers, politicians, and everything else.

It seems like NFL players should be able to put enough aside to take care of their ongoing medical needs after their career, even if that injury is CTE, Alzheimer's, or another head-related trauma. Or, the NFL or Players Association could put aside somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of that salary for medical expenses and retirement needs for the first three years in some fashion that the players cannot touch or get at until after retirement.

I continue to be torn over this issue. These athletes should be able to ensure they are well cared for almost regardless of what type of injury they incur, and that is one of the reasons why we pay them so much. Those who make it past three years are even richer and more capable of taking care of themselves. On the other hand, they were misled and outright lied to over the years by their employers as to just what level of risk the "silent killer" of head trauma could play in their lives. Yet other, even more important, high-risk careers don't get paid nearly what these athletes do in order to entertain us. The athletes are in a high-reward and very profitable business, and should get whatever they can from management. But, at the same time, they should think about the future and save some of that money for the problems 5, 10, 20 years down the line.

This one has me stumped.