It has been a bad end to the year for the National Football League. At a time when the NFL is being sued by thousands of former players and their families, who contend that the league hid information about the danger of football-related head injuries, Boston University School of Medicine helped the suit along. Its researchers made public a new report bolstering the link between the Alzheimer's-like condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy and the concussions experienced by football players.
Soon after the concussion story made new headlines, the NFL was on the front pages again when Jovan Belcher, a Kansas City Chiefs linebacker, shot his girlfriend and then himself. Belcher's murder-suicide came shortly before the Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs was served with a court order to surrender his arsenal of guns, including an AK-47, and a report in USA Today put the percentage of NFL players who were gun owners at 75%, far more than the 40 to 45% of households in the general population who, according to the National Rifle Association, own guns.
The third blow to the NFL came when former league commissioner Paul Tagliabue lifted the suspensions that the current NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, had imposed on a group of New Orleans Saints players for their participation in a bounty scheme that gave bonuses for hurting opposing players. The ultimate responsibility, Tagliabue said, fell on the New Orleans coaches and management, who had engaged in "broad organizational misconduct".
As the NFL gets ready to begin the playoffs that lead to the Super Bowl, the timing of these headlines could not have been worse. The bad news needs to be kept in perspective, however. Football has been in equal, if not greater jeopardy before.