Column: NFL Risks Health of Players in Newly Extended Regular Season

Zack Miller | The PhoenixMore games means more risks for NFL players.

As a National Football League (NFL) fanatic, the news of the league extending its regular season from 16 to 17 games seemed phenomenal at first. Holding the shortest regular season in all major U.S. sports, the effect one extra week of regular-season football can have is something to go crazy for. 

The reason why the NFL season is so short is because of how physically demanding the sport is. Built on hits and movements of speed and explosivity, hundreds of players sustain injuries every season. According to Sharp Football Analysis, the average number of injuries per year throughout the seasons of 2017-2019 was 477. All this, without mentioning the long-term effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition that can occur as a result of several concussions or repeated hits to the head.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) signed on March 15, 2020 by players and owners, included the owners’ right to expand the regular season from 16 to 17 games among other regulations. This led me to ask, why would players agree to adding a regular season game after witnessing so many injuries? This major league modification has several implications — winners, and in my opinion, compromising losers.

The NFL as an organization and NFL team owners are the clear winners in this negotiation. Through broadcasting and streaming deals, the quantity of revenue brought in for the NFL with an extra week increases drastically. NFL teams and their owners can further capitalize off it, as they can gain local revenue through ticket sales, concessions and corporate sponsors. 

Regardless of the new revenue stream, every participant in the NFL — athletes as much as executives — is aware of how much a single game can wear down a player. By week 16, the majority of players are already beat up and playing nothing like their opening week selves.

Adding a week to the regular season requires further change — as former wide receiver Torrey Smith once said, “adjustments need to be made.”

If the NFL were to add an extra week to the season, it should be to give teams an additional bye week — a week of rest. In the most extreme of cases, add the 17th week and provide a second bye week. However, the league is negligent in acknowledging the injury count and the players’ physical needs. 

Before approving the CBA, the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) voted on the matter. In a very tightly contested election, the CBA passed with a count of 1,019 to 959 — a 60 vote difference.

Superstar athletes, rookies as much as veterans, took their opinion on the matter to social media. Aaron Rodgers and Alvin Kamara headline two different age groups protesting against the new league modification.

“[The NFL is] really standing up for player safety, player safety, player safety. But it seems like player safety has a price tag,” former San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman said. “Player safety, up to the point of, ‘Hey, 17 games make us this much money, so we really don’t care how safe they are, if you’re going to pay us this much money to play another game.’”

“Hard no on that proposed CBA,” said Arizona Cardinals defensive end and three-time defensive player of the year J.J. Watt.

“Rip it up!” Chicago Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson said in a tweet regarding the new CBA agreement.

The CBA also includes several benefits for players. The minimum salary for NFL players increased from $510,000 to $610,000 —a staggering 5.1 percent — and total NFL revenue going to the players increased from 47 percent to 48.5 percent. Is it enough, however, to compensate the players for an extra game of football?

I strongly disagree. The NFL bought its way into the 17 game schedule by targeting the vast majority of athletes — average players — giving them an inch for them not to go the mile. Under the new CBA, the majority of players are monetarily benefited, as the minimum-salary increases. However, a 1.5 percent increase in league revenue seems like nothing when you ask a player to risk his health, and potentially his career, when it is already so hard to make it to the end of the regular season.

The NFL benefits with no risk. The owners benefit greatly but have the risk of losing players and neither of these compare to the risks players face themselves. The athletes win more money at the unparalleled expense of their health. Clear winner, winner, and compromising loser.

Though the pay might be greater for the majority of players, the risk of injury is substantially, marginally higher than what they’re being paid for. Money moves the league and gets what it wants.

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