A calamitous NFL season is mercifully over for Commissioner Roger Goodell.
The league was hit with several challenges and responded poorly to pretty much all of them.
But Donald Trump just highlighted a major concern for the NFL that could be snowballing.
For the longest time, the NFL didn’t have to worry about its brand.
The gladiator sport overtook “America’s pastime” of baseball to become America’s passion and its most popular sport.
The NFL saw its popularity rise each year, particularly with the advent of fantasy football, which became a billion-dollar industry unto itself.
The NFL seemingly had an invincible brand.
The anti-American anthem protests played a large part in growing fan disinterest.
Older, more patriotic fans are turning away, and younger viewers are also losing interest in the sport.
But there’s a larger problem plaguing football.
The issue of head injuries continues to dog the NFL.
The problem came to the forefront when Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame center Mike Webster died of a heart attack.
The coroner thought he was examining the body of a 70-year-old man but was shocked to learn Webster was only 50.
A glorious NFL career had left Webster’s body broken, and his brain battered.
An autopsy showed Webster had what is now known as CTE, a brain injury caused by repeated head trauma.
Thus far CTE can only be diagnosed with an autopsy.
Webster’s tragic death was the starting point for the film “Concussion,” a scathing critique of the NFL’s handling of the head trauma issue.
The film also chronicled several suicides committed by former players who were haunted by the side effects — memory loss, confusion, violent outbursts — of CTE.
The NFL responded by penalizing helmet-to-helmet hits, and developing concussion testing before players can return to the game.
The increased penalties haven’t made the game safer, only more aggravating for fans, players, and coaches.
Savage was shockingly sent back into the game after obvious head trauma, which delegitimized the NFL’s supposed concussion protocol safeguard.
In recent years, the NFL has settled with former players for a total exceeding $700 million, and that number is likely to go up as head trauma cases proliferate.
Now Donald Trump is shining a light on the NFL’s biggest problem.
During an interview, Trump was asked if he’d allow his adolescent son Barron to play football.
The president’s answer is not what Commissioner Goodell wanted to hear.
Trump said, “If he wanted to? Yes. Would I steer him that way? No, I wouldn’t.”
That’s a hard truth for the NFL to hear.
Trump continued, “I just don’t like the reports that I see coming out having to do with football…It’s a dangerous sport.”
Trump gave the NFL credit for improving technology such as safer helmets, but the advancements are minimal thus far, and can’t counteract the reality of world-class athletes running into each other at full speed.
Trump further expounded, “I’ve heard NFL players saying they wouldn’t let their sons play football. So. It’s not totally unique…I would have a hard time with it.”
Former NFL player and broadcaster Ed Cunningham is one of those players.
Cunningham was so distraught over the concussion issue, he quit his broadcasting gig.
Trump and Cunningham aren’t alone in their sentiments.
The NFL needs to lead the way in medical research to curb this growing problem.
Otherwise, anthem protests will be the least of its worries.