There's no secret as to why pro football is America's favorite sport -- it combines the best of athleticism, violence, and hilarious slapstick comedy all in one package. But the same way that we don't like to hear that our favorite electronics are made by child slaves, we also don't want to hear about the corrupt underbelly of our national pastime. But holy shit, guys, this stuff is getting hard to ignore:
5They Sell Millions of Dollars Worth of Merchandise for Charity, Then Keep Most of the Cash
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If you watch an NFL game during the month of October, you'll notice lots of players wearing bright, hot pink accessories -- pink shoes, pink wristbands, pink towels. Look on the sidelines, you see the same on the team staff. And sure enough, if you go into the NFL merchandise shop, you'll find piles of the same stuff for sale -- get a women's pink t-shirt for the low price of $39!
If you're a cynical type, you might think this is simply a promotion to sell more merchandise to women. But no, it's all for a good cause! It's part of the NFL's Crucial Catch program, intended to help cure breast cancer. The League pushes it so hard that for an entire month, this macho game turns a horrible shade of pink -- that's how much it cares about women, you guys!
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Unless, you know, it involves giving them health insurance for mammograms and shit.
They boast that "a portion" of the proceeds from all of this gear benefits breast cancer research. So what's that portion, you ask? 75 percent? 50 percent? 30 percent?
Sorry, you all overbid. Try 10 percent or less.
That's right; the NFL collects untold millions each year from sales of pink this and pink that, and keeps 90 goddamn percent of it. Of course, they dress it up in such a way that it looks like they make almost nothing, but that takes some creative accounting. To hear them explain it, they donate 90 percent of all merchandise royalties to the American Cancer Society. Sounds great, except for that magical word "royalties" (instead of, say, "sales" or "profits").
According to Darren Rovell of ESPN, the NFL's modus operandi is to take a "25 percent royalty from the wholesale price (1/2 retail)". So if you buy a pink Tony Romo dishrag for $95, the NFL will take a quarter of half that price, or roughly $11.85, and donate a whopping $10.60 of it to the ACS. The rest goes to them.
The NFL doesn't dispute that, but claims that the remaining 80-some dollars they kept from the jersey didn't go into the pockets of the billionaires who own the teams. After all, they say, that money gets split among retailers, manufacturers, and the cost of running Crucial Catch. But here's the thing: since the vast majority of pink merchandise gets sold through the NFL (either at games or via their online shop), that makes them both the retailer and the merchandiser. And as far as running Crucial Catch goes, that's their campaign to promote the fucking merchandise. It's nothing but advertising for the women's section of their store.
Now add that some critics insist the 10 percent donation is actually more like 3 percent, and it kind of starts to look like the NFL just wanted a feel-good excuse to get women in on their merchandising bonanza. After all, it's not like they exactly have a great record when it comes to its treatment of women -- but more on that later.
4They Buried Reports About How Dangerous Their Sport Is
As science digs deeper and deeper into how football works and what it does to those who play it, it reaches the same basic conclusion over and over again: "Jesus fuck, this is killing people's brains! Shit!" You can imagine how happy the NFL was to hear such constructive criticism, and the lengths they went to squash it are amazing.
Oh sure, you've seen lots of news in the last couple of years about concussions and how the NFL has tried to abandon its previous protocol of "Walk it off, your pussy!" But it took years of stubborn resistance to get there. In 2002, former player Mike Webster died at age 50. After his death, pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu examined his brain and discovered an entirely new disease. Though Webster had displayed signs of dementia and Alzheimer's prior to his death, his brain externally looked like a healthy person brain. The internal tissue, however, had degenerated to the point where it resembled that of an elderly dementia patient. Almost as if it had suffered some kind of trauma. But what about this man's lifestyle could possibly have caused such a thing?
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"I'm sorry, what were we talking about again?"
Omalu named his discovery Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, soon learned of several more dead football players with similar issues, theorized many more were at risk of developing it, and marched straight to the nearest medical journal to publish his findings. It ... didn't go as well as he'd hoped. Omalu ended up submitting to Neurosurgery, the unofficial medical journal of the NFL. Its editor moonlighted as a consultant for the New York Giants, and his job was to twist science until it screamed "FOOTBALL IS HEALTHY AND CONTAINS ZERO SIDE EFFECTS, LET'S GO TOSS THE BALL AROUND THE BACK YARD, KIDS!" He and his peers attempted time and again to discredit Omalu and his findings, accusing him of medical fraud and quackery based on the hard scientific theory known as "we said so."
When this didn't work, the NFL attempted to drown Omalu out in any way possible. They published their own medical studies in Neurosurgery, all of which conveniently concluded that football did not harm the brain and that concussions were no more severe than ice cream headaches. They'd also hold impromptu press conferences and not invite him. That way, he couldn't defend himself against respectable league doctors scoffing at the weird medicine man bellowing about how America's Sport is somehow damaging the brains of the men whose job it is to slam their skulls against each other 75 times a game.
Finally, when ESPN collaborated with Omalu for a 2013 documentary on PBS's Frontline, called "League of Denial," the NFL approached ESPN, reminded them how much money they would lose if football suddenly told them to suck it, and that was that. "League of Denial" quickly lost visibility, as ESPN followed the money and sided with its Sith Lord. For always, there are two.
But brain damage is far from the only way that ...