In the wake of a vastly entertaining SuperBowl contest between the “San Francisco 50-1’ers”* and the “Baltimore Black Birds”*, Steve Chapman outlines the possibility that we won’t see too many more SuperBowl games:
Professional football is the most popular spectator sport in America, which is one reason yesterday’s Super Bowl was expected to draw 110 million viewers. With its famous athletes, storied franchises, and lucrative TV contracts, it’s an industry whose future appears limitless.
But football has a problem: the specter of mass brain damage among current and former players. So far, the steady trickle of disturbing revelations has had no apparent effect on ticket sales or TV ratings. What it has done, though, is more ominous: It has invited lawsuits.
If football falls into decline, it may not be the result of fans turning away, athletes avoiding it, or parents forbidding it. It may be from lawyers representing players who sustained chronic traumatic encephalopathy and expect to be compensated for the damage.
[. . .]
Walter Olson, a Cato Institute fellow, blogger (Overlawyered.com), and author of several books on liability, knows well how a tide of litigation can transform a landscape. And he has a bold prediction: “If we were to apply the same legal principles to football as we do to other industries, it would have to become extremely different, if not go out of business.”
“Seriously?” you may ask. A guy who made a good living engaging in high-speed collisions with 300-lb. blocks of granite can say he didn’t understand the risks involved? It may seem that case will be laughed out of court.
But Olson thinks not. “Courts have not been very friendly to this argument, particularly when something as grave as permanent brain damage is involved,” he told me. And it’s become apparent that while players were aware of the possibility of mangled knees, broken bones, and concussions, they didn’t grasp that repeated blows to the head could produce debilitating and irreversible mental harms.
* See the Samsung commercial in this post for explanation of the team names.