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As the games end, let the negotiations begin: Players’ health

.As the years progress, more and more questions pop up about the current state of player management in the NFL.The NFL and the National Football League Players Association or the NFLPA, came to an agreement that was able to keep the league open for ten years. This agreement, which is currently active, is set to last until 2021. The NFL is looking to come to an agreement with the NFLPA to extend the collective bargaining agreement, but because of the status and current state of the NFL, it may be unlikely.

Though we still have a long while to get to 2021, the bargaining process makes it seem right around the corner. Other than the limited amount of time given to the two parties, other flags pop up that might deter a smooth bargaining process. The league’s popularity has been on a decline for the past few years and looks to continue to dip. Some speculate the idea of the NFL becoming more politicized while others blame it on an attempt to reconcile the NFL historic position on matters pertaining to players’ health. Star studded players of the NFL should consider saving up their money now and prepare for an NFL lockout in the near future.

Injuries, Injuries… Injuries

As stated before, the NFL’s decline in popularity may have been rooted in the underlying attempt to keep players safe. As rule changes look to manipulate the style of play on the field, the fan base hasn’t taken kindly to it. The NFL is looking towards a future to try and prevent injuries as much as possible. Many arrows point towards the increase in substance abuse for league players.

Today, in the United States, we face an epidemic unlike ever before. Though we are familiar with the government’s attempt to combat the use of illegal substance abuse and solicitation with the “war on drugs”. In the 1980’s, the crack epidemic shook the core of our nation and turned law abiding citizens into addicts. Though users of drugs were targeted to victims of low poverty environments, the notorious drug use went as far has seeping into the entertainment industry, even sports like the NFL. Players like Ricky Williams, Michael Irving and, arguably the greatest defender in NFL history, Lawrence Taylor, all have faced a battle with heavy drug use and alcoholism.

Treatment?

Today, the name of the game has changed to opioids and it is ravishing through the streets of our country. In contrast to people using illegal drugs to feed their drug habit in the past, today, the top drug supplier for most addicts is their primary care physicians. Due to the convenience and seemingly endless supply, prescription pain medication has been the main culprit of drug abuse in modern times. Just like before, this has seeped into our entertainment business and the NFL. Players are now touted with the task to medicate themselves to get through the rigorous season. Some have resisted the current trend and have looked towards alternative means of self medication.

Over the last five years, the NFL has seen an increase in marijuana use. Some believe that players are using marijuana as an alternative to pain medications. Currently, the United States looks towards a path to decriminalize marijuana altogether. Today, 29 states have legalized the use of medical marijuana and 8 states have legalize the recreational use of marijuana. However, the Federal Drug Administration recognizes marijuana as a level I drug along with heroin, LSD and methamphetamine. The federal government still recognizes the use of marijuana as illegal. Because of that, it violates the league’s substance abuse policy.

What does this mean for the league?

As we head to the future, more players will probably join the path to using marijuana regularly. Regardless of the reason, more than likely, the use of medication will probably be cited as why. There has been a stint of players who have been suspended and banned due to their drug use. The NFLPA will look to for guidelines to make a less punitive approach towards offenders of marijuana use.

In other words, the players’ union will look towards  an agenda with less harsh penalties for players who violate the league’s substance abuse policy, but mainly for marijuana. For the rest of the league players who indulge upon pain killers to get through the season, the players union should look towards the NFL putting more accountability in teams on trying to treat players through the season and offseason without medicating them with highly addictive pain medications.

Concussions

A great debate has sparked between the relation of head injuries and players’ physical and mental fitness. The research into brain injuries have been pushed to the side by the NFL historically. Many experts believe that the push for players’ health regarding to concussions could kill the sport itself. Though, millions of dollars have gone to the medical research in understanding the causes and underlying symptoms of severe brain injuries over a period of time.

In 2017, former NFL player, Aaron Hernandez committed suicide in his prison cell after he was convicted of a murder back in 2013. Despite his attraction and involvement in illegal gang activity, skeptics are now making a different kind of debate. After a brain dissection during the autopsy of the 27 year old, medical professionals determined that Hernandez had suffered from a sever case of Chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, a progressive degenerative disease found in people who have had a severe blow or repeated blows to the head, including football players who suffer concussions. The public have been vocal on their skepticism of CTE leading to not only Hernandez involvement in the murder of Odin Lloyd, but also the reasoning of why Aaron Hernandez took his own life. However, this brings us to different kind of discussion altogether.

What About Active Players Suffering Now?

Most players in the past that have been diagnosed with CTE have been long removed from the NFL. Deceased former players’ brain health gave reason to interpret the disease as the progression of this degenerative disease. However, these cases have been looked at for players who had been playing football for many years and at the time of their death where north of fifty to sixty years old. Hernandez was 27 when he died and only played in the NFL till he was 23 years old.

Being that Hernandez did not play for almost five years puzzles some on the severity of the damage done to his brain such a short time of playing. Of course, Hernandez could of sustained brain injuries after his tenure in the NFL, but that’s not likely. Before the focus was on past players, now, this has sparked a new consideration in looking into the health of players who are currently playing football now.

What does this mean for the league?

Players have to be protected. The prospect of having a shortened career or problems after the NFL doesn’t seem too attractive. Everything starts from the top. The NFL’s position will trickle down to lower divisions of football, even little league. Unfortunately, those humble beginnings of little league could be a deterrent to a career in football. All it takes is a few mothers to take their children out of participating in football. This could lead to a trend  players.

The league has to do something. The NFLPA will push for policies that will ensure more medical research and regulations. To prevent concussions. this could mean harsher penalties for players on the field. Also, it could mean harsher penalties to teams. For example, allowing players to participate after suffering head injuries and have not been either cleared but also evaluated properly.

Will there be a lockout?

The two sides in the CBA negotiations barely seem to budge in times like this. The NFL seems to be pretty happy with the current situation of the agreement. Because of this, it will push for an extension as it seems to favor their position. However, this is not Burger King, you can’t have it your way. If one side is happy about a negotiation, the other side is getting the short end of the stick. The last CBA was seven years ago and a lot has changed since as the world will continue to change.

For the NFLPA, it is their job to speak on the behalf of all of the league’s players. They’re going to have to go to war with the NFL. An NFL lockout seems to be inevitable in the future.. There are many concerns that have to be addressed. Topics from the players administrative arbitration process to how the league conducts sanctions against players. And that is just a scrape of a laundry list of problems. For the fans, we’ll just have to wait to see what comes. At the end of the day, these negotiations are what helps the sport stay alive and entertain us on Sundays. We might have to miss a part or even a whole seaso but, it is imperative price to pay.

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