Commentary: Corruption in the NFL Is Pervasive and Egregious


Josiah Griego, Author

The National Football league has been corrupt for almost a century now. Sometimes, an institution’s corruption is so pervasive that it becomes its lifeblood. The first-century Roman humorist Juvenal’s adage, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” (Who guards the guards themselves?) is exemplified by the pervasive corruption in some institutions. However, Juvenal didn’t survive long enough to face the National Football League, an organization full of snakes. 

Simply said, the NFL has lost all credibility on virtually every subject related to ethics and morals. Its public conscience is mainly rudimentary, and its sense of civic duty has almost completely vanished. The NFL is corrupt in many ways, but the most egregious of all is the lack of protection on players’ safety. It is now inconceivable to imagine that, if we understood a hundred years ago what we understand now, the sport would have even been conceived, much less that kids would ever be allowed to play it. 

The sheer action of playing the game has been demonstrated to be profoundly harmful to the human body. Since the first former NFL player was identified as having CTE in the early 2000s, medical professionals have learned a great deal about concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain illness thought to be brought on by repeated head trauma.

The NFL has changed the wording in an effort to downplay this stark fact that is only getting more real. The league has manipulated its own records and hired for its own purposes individuals whose prior employment included aiding the tobacco industry in its efforts to recover from a half century of irresponsible killings in an effort to avoid accountability for the safety and well-being of its most prominent employees. And it appears that the corruption of the NFL now has spread to the U.S. government.

Elliott Pellman, the chairman of the initial NFL committee formed in 1995 to investigate the matter, had never authored a scholarly publication on concussions or brain injuries. It turned out that he was a rheumatologist who later worked as former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s personal doctor and who, in 1994, told Sports Illustrated that concussions in football were inevitable and merely an “occupational risk.” The team doctors who had been returning athletes with concussions to play for years made up about half of the committee. After that, players started getting lost on their drive home from practice or home games. Players then started killing themselves.

The NFL’s leadership should have supported these players, but instead they covered up the issue.  But this wasn’t about burying some guys who were busted buying marijuana, and it wasn’t about using influence to get some dummies to pay for a brand-new stadium. If this workplace safety problem was handled properly from the start, it would have done a lot to dispel the rumor that the league treated its players like replaceable goods. The league had the opportunity to reinvent itself for the 21st century.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been unable to manage the problem. He consciously constructed a strong structure built on denial and lies that is now falling to dust. Modern research scientists, at least those who still have their moral compasses intact, dislike having their work undermined by glorified marketing whizzes. 

It’s high time that other, more respectable organizations begin to view the NFL as a renegade organization undeserving of their trust. Congress is already looking at it funny. Every competent researcher ought to approach the NFL in the same manner they approach a brand-new bacterium. Individuals should never again have faith in the NFL’s sincerity.