Editorial: NFL headaches open door for MLB

While you’re still weighing how Zack Greinke did in his pitching debut Monday for the Arizona Diamondbacks, consider that professional sports are taking hits over news and rumors of concussions.

Leading the way is the National Football League, which for the first time recently admitted – even remotely – a link between the repeated hits its players take and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The disease has resulted in player suicides and debilitating symptoms after retirement – including memory loss, depression and dementia.

After years of NFL officials disputing evidence that connected football to CTE, a top official for the league – Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety – for the first time (March 2016) acknowledged the link during a U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, the Associated Press reported.

It was an echo of big tobacco’s confession in 1997 that smoking causes cancer and heart disease.

Aside from the NFL historically being accused by former players and independent experts of hiding the dangers of head injuries for decades, the league still faces time in court over lawsuits involving CTE. That’s why the admission was so amazing.

Still, the NFL is spinning the story – to the point of going after the Gray Lady (the New York Times), which on March 24 reported on flaws in the NFL’s concussion research. The Times has said it will not revise or correct its story, and experts are saying the league likely will not sue because any lawsuit would face steep hurdles in order to prevail and the league would be opening itself up to “pretrial discovery”; a judge could order the NFL to disclose sensitive materials related to concussions.

The “materials” could severely damage the league’s public reputation, along with its standing among lawmakers interested in regulating football safety – something the NFL does not want. Consider the NFL as a big business, none of which would want Congressional oversight. Further, the materials might also bolster the remaining concussion lawsuits brought by retired players and the families of deceased players. Just this week, Ken Stabler’s survivors joined one such lawsuit.

In the end, there’s little the NFL can do about media allegations concerning concussions without accepting a major risk that extends well beyond time, energy and – of course – paying for attorneys.

Add to this the recent news of the National Hockey League getting pulled into the fold, with allegations of concealing concussion test results and NHL players suing over the same.

While the NFL, for example, is touting changes to minimize concussions, pull players and/or spot problems to head off the injuries, Major League Baseball has been working on similar policies since at least 2012 (when the NFL allegations hit hard) – despite the fact that concussions in baseball are relatively rare.

I don’t want to turn my back on football, but all of this talk does elevate my interest in seeing the Arizona Diamondbacks continue their 2016 spring success … and wondering if this is the year for the Chicago Cubs to break their World Series drought, last winning in 1908.

Welcome back, Boys of Summer.