There has been an enormous spike of news reports regarding the National Football League and concussions. The NFL has discussed increasing fines after reports of recent helmet-related injuries. Moreover, fans have noticed an increase in penalties during the game as a result of players leading with their heads. But, has all this talk resulted from an increase awareness of brain trauma? While it is true that players and doctors are more aware of the risks involved, I’m slightly skeptical that, that is the only driving force.
The most likely catalyst are the new health insurance negotiations with the players. The players have argued that their insurance coverage is inadequate considering the value they contribute to the sport, and the costs inflicted on their families after they retire. Consequently, many players have demanded health insurance upgrades, which undoubtedly will increase costs of providing such care. However, like any business, the NFL is always looking to reduce costs.
While I have no doubt that the League cares for its players, certain economic incentives come into play with these negotiations. If the League foresees the possibility of accepting player demands down the line, it will need to reduce long-term costs. One way of doing that is reducing player injuries for one of the most violent sports.
If penalizing helmet-to-helmet hits will reduce long-term costs, expect penalties and fines to increase. One does not need to be an expert in NFL negotiations to understand that basic economics is likely driving changes to the sport.