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Please prepare a 10–12 minute presentation on Microsoft PowerPoint about the NFL as a company and go deeper into the issue of players getting concussions. Include SWOT analyis, and bring issues to current events.

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JANUARY 2, 2018
The National Football League and Brain Injuries
In the three years following the 2014 settlement with former players, CTE issues persisted. One
factor was the 2015 movie Concussion, with Will Smith playing Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic
pathologist who first discovered CTE in the brains of former NFL players and then took on the NFL,
which tried to suppress his research.
In 2017, a joint study of 202 brains found CTE in 99% of NFL players autopsied, as well as 91% of
college players and 21% of high school players. 1 The brains of former high school players showed only
mild pathology, while a majority of the college and professional players showed severe pathology. The
study concluded that repetitive sub-concussive blows were more of a concern than the number of
concussions. Aaron Hernandez, a former New England Patriot player, was convicted of first-degree
murder and ended his own life in jail. An autopsy revealed that at age 27, he already had severe CTE. 2
New NFL concussion protocols, which had been in effect for several years, seemed to have resulted
in a slight drop in concussion incidents, from 261 in 2012 to 244 in 2016. 3 A small but growing number
of NFL players had retired early, citing concerns about the quality of life after football. 4 In addition,
halfway into the 2017 season, several high-profile stars (including Richard Sherman, Julian Edelman,
J.J. Watt, and Odell Beckham Jr.) had suffered season-ending injuries, unrelated to concussions. 5
In response, the NFL continued to launch new initiatives such as a $100 million fund for engineering
research, and in 2016 it introduced the VICIS ZERO1 helmet and said it was the safest helmet in
football—College or Pro. 6 The NFL was also making good on its obligations from the 2014 settlement,
approving $130 million in payments by the Claims Administrator to be paid out to 1,200 former players
(out of 20,000 eligible). 7
CTE issues also seemed to have affected youth football. Participation in tackle football programs for
boys 8–12 had dropped 20% since 2009. Only flag football experienced growth. 8 All 50 states passed
new laws to protect high school sports players. 9 Self-reporting and increased awareness seemed to
have caused a rise in first-time concussions along with a steep drop in repeat concussions. Overall,
concussions involving young people in the U.S. had nearly tripled from 135,000 in 2005 to 360,000 in
2016. 10 Women’s soccer was now the second most dangerous sport in high school. 11
Senior Fellow Richard G. Hamermesh and Senior Lecturer George Riedel prepared this case. This case was developed from published sources.
Funding for the development of this case was provided by Harvard Business School and not by the company. HBS cases are developed solely as
the basis for class discussion. Cases are not intended to serve as endorsements, sources of primary data, or illustrations of effective or ineffective
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The National Football League and Brain Injuries (B)
The “Kneeling” Issue
In 2016, Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, triggered a new set of issues.
Kaepernick, then 26, had led his team to the Super Bowl in 2013 and was rewarded with a then-record
seven-year $126 million contract. 12 His performance over the next several years declined, and in 2016
he was ranked 17th out of 30 quarterbacks. 13
Kaepernick garnered national attention in August 2016 in the wake of the fatal shooting of an 18year-old African American man by a 28-year-old white police officer in the town of Ferguson, Missouri.
In disturbances afterwards, 10 civilians and 6 police officers were injured and 25 buildings burned to
the ground. These events sparked a series of demonstrations and a national conversation on race and
law enforcement. Further disturbances occurred in November 2016 when a grand jury, after meeting
for 25 days, did not indict the police officer.
Against this backdrop, Kaepernick began a series of protests, by kneeling at the playing of the
National Anthem at NFL games. Kaepernick commented:
I’m going to continue to stand with people that are being oppressed. To me, something
has to change . . . I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that
oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it
would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and
people getting paid leave and getting away with murder. This is because I’m seeing things
happen to people who don’t have a voice . . . I have a platform to have their voices heard.
The NFL did have a Personal Conduct Policy for players, which called for everyone in the league to
refrain from conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the NFL. 14 When
Kaepernick first made waves by kneeling during pre-game ceremonies, the NFL issued
a statement indicating that “players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the
National Anthem.” But NBC News reported that “the NFL has no such rule, and the Collective
Bargaining Agreement is silent on the subject.” 15 Interestingly, while the National Anthem had long
been a part of sporting events, it was only within the last decade that NFL players stood for the anthem
in a pre-game on-field ritual. Before 2009, they remained in the locker room. 16
Kaepernick’s actions set off a series of similar protests—both within the NFL, where a protest
started with only four players and grew to 130 a month later, 17 and then broadening to other sports
such as Women’s Professional Soccer, high school football, and the NBA. 18
The situation became further inflamed when President Donald Trump tweeted about it several
times, criticizing players who protested for “disrespecting” the flag and suggesting that owners should
fire them. 19 This led to a series of equally sharp responses. 20
Two high-profile NFL owners weighed in with divergent views. Robert Kraft of the New England
Patriots commented that he was “deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the
President on Friday . . . I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous
contributions in positively impacting our communities.” 21 In contrast, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry
Jones said that team policy prohibits players from playing if they “disrespect” the flag. 22
Some sponsors and advertisers expressed frustration with the protests (for example, Century Link,
Local Ford Dealers, Papa John’s Pizza), threatening to withdraw their support or boycott the games. 23
Others, such as Anheuser-Busch and Under Armour, were muted or even supportive. 24 Some fans also
registered their disapproval, some through boycotts, others by turning off their televisions or not
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The National Football League and Brain Injuries (B)
attending games. One fan even hired a plane to fly over the Jacksonville Jaguars stadium during its
game with a banner reading, “Be American. Boycott the Jags and the NFL.” 25
As the backlash built and the 2016 season ended, Kaepernick, who was 1-10 as a starter, lost his
starting quarterback role, opted out of his contract, and became a free agent. No other team
subsequently offered him a contract, despite 84 quarterbacks being hired or replaced by NFL teams
during the season. 26 He filed a lawsuit against the NFL claiming collusion by the owners. 27
In late 2017, the NFL agreed with the Players Coalition to fund a new $90 million effort to provide
a platform for social activism to address causes deemed important to their communities. 28
TV Ratings Decline
Broadcast agreements with the major networks contributed about $7 billion in revenues, the fastestgrowing component of the business and roughly half the total revenues in 2017. 29 The Super Bowl, the
league championship game, had delivered the three most viewed TV broadcasts in North America in
2014, 2015, and 2017, when roughly 112 million viewers watched. 30 In 2017, 30-second commercial
spots for the Super Bowl cost $5 million.
For two years in a row, however, overall ratings declined. In 2016, they fell 8%. 31 Some argued that
this was due to the National Anthem issues, while others thought the 2016 presidential election
crowded out the NFL viewership. In 2017, NFL ratings were down by 9.7% and college football ratings
also dropped about 4%. 32 In spite of the ratings declines, NFL programming in 2017 still delivered 33
of the top 50 programs on TV in the U.S. 33
Many explanations were offered for these declines. They included cord-cutting from cable, lower
quality of play, oversaturation (like the addition of Thursday night television games), negative reaction
to the game’s violence, continued off-field distractions (such as domestic violence charges and
suspensions for the use of performance-enhancing drugs), the growth of Fantasy Football leagues (now
a $7 billion business), the rise of other sports (like the NBA), star players out with injuries, hurricanes,
and teams relocating to other cities.
The Economic Powerhouse Continues?
Despite all the issues and distractions surrounding the game, the NFL continued to be an economic
powerhouse for both the owners and players. The league was set to generate $14 billion in 2017
revenues, up $600 million (7%) from the prior year and $6 billion (75%) more than in 2010. 34 Roger
Goodell, the commissioner, was forecasting $25 billion in league revenues by 2027. 35
The economic might of the league was demonstrated in the Forbes list of most valuable sports
franchises in the world, which NFL teams predominated. 36 In 2017, 27 of the 32 NFL teams were worth
over $2 billion, up from one team just four years earlier. Access to viewers was still a big investment
for media companies, as the NFL announced in late 2017 a $2 billion five-year deal with Verizon to
stream the game through a range of online properties. 37 With team valuations at record highs, owners
of franchises faced the same issue (and then some) they had in 2014: Was now the right time to sell
before declining viewership and fan and sponsor support impacted the NFL’s economic viability? If
not, how would you frame a response to improve the game for its various constituents?
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Permissions@hbsp.harvard.edu or 617.783.7860
The National Football League and Brain Injuries (B)
1 Barbara Moran, “CTE Found in 99 Percent of Former NFL Players Studied,” BU Research, July 24, 2017,
2 Adam Kilgore, “Aaron Hernandez suffered from most severe CTE ever found in a person his age,” Washington Post, Nov. 9,
2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/aaron-hernandez-suffered-from-most-severe-cte-ever-found-in-a-person-hisage/2017/11/09/fa7cd204-c57b-11e7-afe9-4f60b5a6c4a0_story.html?utm_term=.80e965ebae3b.
3 Ken Belson, “N.F.L. Reports a Decline in Concussions This Season,” The New York Times, Jan. 26, 2017,
4 Justin Block, “We Shouldn’t Be Surprised When NFL Players Retire Early Anymore,” HuffPost, April 8, 2016,
5 Robert Mays, “The Impact of the NFL’s Injured Superstar Class,” The Ringer, Dec. 7, 2017,
6 Laura Kolodny, “This is what the NFL calls the safest helmet yet,” CNBC, Sept. 16, 2017,
7 Ken Belson, “Debilitated Players Accuse N.F.L. of Stalling on Settlement Payments,” The New York Times, Nov. 13, 2017,
8 Jack More, “Youth Football Participation Is Plummeting,” Vocativ, March 16, 2016, http://www.vocativ.com/298019/youth-
9 Medlineplus, Oct. 19, 2017, https://medlineplus.gov/news/fullstory_169184.html.
10 Mary E. Dallas, “State Laws Help Reduce Concussions in Youth Sports,” HealthDay News, Oct. 19, 2017,
11Brian Resnick, “The most dangerous high school sports, in one chart,” VOX, Dec. 13, 2015, https://www.vox.com/science-
12 Cork Gaines, “Colin Kaepernick received less than one-third of his ‘record’ $126 million contract,” Business Insider, Sept. 10,
2017, http://www.businessinsider.com/colin-kaepernick-record-49ers-contract-2017-8.
13 PRO FOOTBALL REFERENCE, “2016 NFL Passing,” https://www.pro-football-reference.com/years/2016/passing.htm.
14 NFL, “Personal Conduct Policy 2016,”
15 David Mikkelson, “Are NFL Players Required to Stand on the Field During the National Anthem?” Snopes, Sept. 24, 2017,
16 Stef W. Kight, “The history of singing the national anthem before NFL games,” AXIOS, Sept. 26, 2017,
17 Megan Garber, “They Took a Knee,” The Atlantic, Sept. 24, 2017,
18 Mark Sandritter, “A timeline of Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest and the athletes who joined him,” SB Nation,
Sept. 25, 2017, https://www.sbnation.com/2016/9/11/12869726/colin-kaepernick-national-anthem-protest-seahawksbrandon-marshall-nfl.
19 Charles Curtis, “Read all 14 of Donald Trump’s sports-related tweets in his recent Twitter storm,” USA Today, Sept. 25, 2017,

Read all 14 of Donald Trump’s sports-related tweets in his recent Twitter storm

20 Brian Flaherty, “From Kaepernick sitting to Trump’s fiery comments: NFL’s anthem protests have spurred discussion,” The
Washington Post, Sept. 24, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/sports/colin-kaepernick-national-anthemprotests-and-NFL-activism-in-quotes/?utm_term=.51066e68821e.
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The National Football League and Brain Injuries (B)
21 Scooby Axson, “Patriots Owner Robert Kraft: ‘Deeply Disappointed’ With Trump Comments,” Sports Illustrated, Sept. 24,
2017, https://www.si.com/nfl/2017/09/24/patriots-robert-kraft-donald-trump-comments.
22 Chris Mortensen, “Jerry Jones: Players ‘need consequences’ to stand up to peer pressure,” ESPN, Oct. 10, 2017,
23 Phil LeBeau, “New boycott of Ford over its NFL sponsorship called by a Louisiana sheriff,” CNBC, Oct. 12, 2017,
24 Maggie Astor, “How N.F.L. Sponsors Have Reacted to ‘Take a Knee’ Protests,” The New York Times, Sept. 27, 2017,
25 Bruce Haring, “NFL Anthem Protests Continue As Owners Dither, Trump Agitates, Fans React,” Deadline.com, Oct. 22,
2017, http://deadline.com/2017/10/nfl-anthem-protests-continue-as-owners-dither-trump-agitates-fans-act-1202192702/.
26 Andrew Beaton, “Why Your Team Didn’t Sign Colin Kaepernick,” The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 26, 2017,
27 ESPN, “QB Colin Kaepernick files grievance for collusion against NFL owners,” Oct. 16, 2017,
28 John Bowden, “NFL agrees to nearly $90M deal to fund players’ activism efforts: report,” The Hill, Nov. 30, 2017,
29 Anthony Crupi, “Sports Media Rights to Soar to $23B in 2021, PWC Report Says,” Ad Age, Dec. 11, 2017,
30 Frank Pallotta, “More than 111 million people watch Super Bowl LI,” CNN, Feb. 7, 2017,
31 Kevin Draper, “Reading Something in the N.F.L. Ratings? You’re Probably Wrong,” The New York Times, Sept. 25, 2017,
32 Richard Deitsch, “Media Circus: College Football Ratings Are on the Decline,” Sports Illustrated, Dec. 10, 2017,
33 Joe Flint, “NFL Ratings Fall at Faster Pace,” The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 4, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/nfl-ratingsfall-at-faster-pace-1515061801.
34 Mike Florio, “NFL will reach $14 billion in 2017 revenue,” NBC Sports, March 6, 2017,
35 Jason Belzer, “Thanks to Roger Goodell, NFL Revenues Projected To Surpass $13 Billion In 2016,” Forbes, Feb. 29, 2016,
36 Kurt Badenhausen, “Full List: The World’s 50 Most Valuable Sports Teams 2017,” Forbes, Jul. 12, 2017,
37 Todd Spangler, “NFL, Verizon Set Massive $2 Billion Five-Year Streaming Deal,” Variety, Dec. 11, 2017,
This document is authorized for educator review use only by Paul Sabolic, Woodbury University until January 2019. Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright.
Permissions@hbsp.harvard.edu or 617.783.7860
“League of Denial”
1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwVm_9Sfv2I – “Patient Zero” Mike Webster Pt. 1
2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyhJxVM8v10 – Troy Aikman Concussion Pt. 2
3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ReN_ho5J00 – Brain Trauma “The Science” Pt. 3
4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zos9zNHQE5g – Denying the Dangers Pt. 4
5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkpVXpLYguM – Diagnosing CTE Pt. 5
6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdpNBlcizfs – The Wives Pt.6
8. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ryyEEyKD9EU – Will Smith Scene
7. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RY1FQGd1Bb4 – Will Smith Explains CTE
9. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXTrMtrTjlI – Will Smith Alec Baldwin
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sR2WqfpSZYo – Football and Children Pt. 7
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzf_RcE37q0 – Junior Seau Pt. 8
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SedClkAnclk – Full Film 2 Hours
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mdp4T_G0Xsc – Will Smith Scene

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