DALESSANDRO: GIANTS' OWNER JOHN MARA DISCUSSES NFL BRAIN INJURIES
"John Mara probably knows this is going to sound like lip service, because it
isn’t often that overlords in a mercenary, cash-flow cartel express any concern
about such trifling matters as long-term damage or body counts.
But he sees these broken men – good men still in their 50s, men he has known
since he was a kid, men who served his father faithfully – and their condition
is “heartbreaking,” to use his term.
“For me, it’s a personal thing, because I grew up with these guys,” the
Giants CEO said of the retired NFL players who seek restitution from a league
that Mara admits has underserved for too long. “It’s shocking to me to see guys
who, when they were players, you’d say, ‘This guy is going to have a good
post-football career – very smart, has his degree. . .’
“And then it’s 10 years later, and he’s broke and out of work. It kills you
to see that. It absolutely kills you.”
If the anguish he showed over this issue today is an insincere act, this
gentleman is a great loss to the theater.
He came to Newark this morning to speak with our editorial board about the
encroachment of a retail monstrosity across the parking lot from MetLife
Stadium, and the traffic nightmare he is certain will result from the American
Dream complex operating on football Sundays.
Afterwards, Mara took some time to discuss what has become a largely
underreported American nightmare, which involves hundreds – or perhaps thousands
– of NFL alumni who are living with the debilitation of countless collisions,
with limbs that no longer work, and with traumatic brain injury.
Roughly 80 of them are presently filing lawsuits against the league, and
while we cannot speak of the legal strength of these actions, even Mara knows
where public sentiment will lie by the time it all plays out.
Think of it: How long can we be bombarded with these heart wrenching
distortions of such strong images of American manhood – Junior Seau, Dave
Duerson, Andre Waters, and on and on – and accept the sanctioned mayhem of a
league which seems to accept self-inflicted gunshots as the only liberation from
decades of pain?
For most of us, the root cause of this is fairly clear, and while Mara cannot
speak of the legality of it, he isn’t ignoring the connection, either. He points
out that 90 percent of the time the Competition committee is in session, the
discussion is on player safety. But they’re still years behind studying the
long-term effects of brain trauma, or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
Mara said, “I’m on the health and safety committee, we have more medical
committees looking into it. We’re just starting to gather more information about
it. And I’m very confident we’re doing everything we can do right now to find
out more about it.
“But the notion in these lawsuits that we knew there were long-term effects
and we withheld that information is ridiculous. Is there some kind of cause and
effect? I don’t know, I’ll let the medical experts tell you that; common sense
would tell you that there is. But to say we knew it and withheld it, I really
find that objectionable.”
Of course, his sore feelings are somewhat secondary to the soreness of the
NFL veteran who can’t get out of bed every morning or remember the names of his
kids, and Mara knows that. He also knows the volume of such casualties is
“It is,” he said, with an audible exhale. “And one of the reasons why we have
a lot of people joining these lawsuits is that we haven’t done a good enough job
of taking care of retired players. That’s an issue we need to come to grips
with. We made a good start in this last CBA (by reducing full-contact practices,
etc.), and by allocating all this money to the legacy fund.”
That amount is $620 million, which is to be divided among 4,700 pensioners.
Someone has been dragging their heels in getting it out to the guys who need it
-- or their widows, in many cases -- but one of these days maybe they’ll get
around to it.
“But to me, the league as a whole hasn’t done as good a job as we could
have,” Mara repeated. “And I see significant improvements in the future. But we
still have to agree with the union on how to do this.”
One more issue related to safety: You’ve probably heard by now that Mara told
Giants.com a while back that the competition committee was looking into
eliminating kickoffs entirely.
Whether this is a reaction to focus groups or the objections of the diehards
on the radio chat shows is unclear, but now Mara says, “I don’t know if
(eliminating kickoffs) will ever happen. But the new protocols we have about
taking guys out of games if there’s any suspicion of a concussion” are doing
what they were designed to do, and are always being reexamined."