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Super risky
Americans' unbridled love of football makes addressing the risks to its players all the more difficult

Date published: 1/27/2013

WITH the commercial behemoth and entertainment spectacle known as the Super Bowl one week away, the wrongful-death suit filed against the NFL by the family of former San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau underscores the risky realities these highly paid athletes face as they play the game.

Mr. Seau killed himself last May at age 43. He had retired two years earlier after a 20-year NFL career. He was diagnosed with CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease linked to repeated blows to the head. Unfortunately, a definitive diagnosis can be made only after an individual has died.

The suit blames the NFL for ignoring and concealing evidence of the dangers presented by the repeated concussions players suffer from violent hits. It also charges helmet-maker Riddell with negligence in its design and production of football headgear. The Seau filing is one of at least 3,800 brain-injury-related lawsuits targeting the NFL.

It is today's great paradox of sports such as football and auto racing that the same violence and risk to life and limb that people pay to watch and advertisers pay to sponsor present in the eyes of a maturing society an unacceptable threat to the safety of the participants.

The NFL can say rightly that it has taken steps to protect its players--from flagging dangerous plays and fining gross offenders, to spending money on brain-injury and equipment research, to urging safer play by younger players. Yet there remains evidence of a cavalier attitude toward player injuries of all kinds, whether it's returning to the game a player who "got his bell rung" or allowing an athlete suffering an obvious, perhaps career-threatening injury (see: RGIII) to continue playing.

As football fans are enraptured by the spectacular production that is the Super Bowl, the spotlight on player safety must also grow brighter.