The cost-benefit analysis of football injuries

Football player Michael Robinson #26 of the Seattle Seahawks is checked on by a trainer after an injury in the second half against the Chicago Bears.

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STEVE CHIOTAKIS: The Super Bowl is set between the Steelers and the Packers. Come a week from Sunday, there'll be one last chance for the season to see some big hits on the football field. Those hits are exactly what some former players and player advocates say is wrong with the game. It's too violent and there are too many risks of head and brain injuries.

Staff writer Ben McGrath has a story about it in this week's New Yorker magazine, and he's with us now. Hi Ben.

BEN MCGRATH: Hi. How are you?

CHIOTAKIS: Doing well. So how much of an influence does the sheer violence of football contribute to its popularity? Do people like it because there are so many hits?

MCGRATH: I think people do, I mean certainly historically that was what drew people to the game. I also thing that people relate to the violence on a kind of notional level. And I don't think they really understand just how violent it sometimes is.

CHIOTAKIS: I'm curious how these brain injuries square with the amount of money that the NFL takes in.

MCGRATH: Your question reminds me of something that James Harrison on the Pittsburgh Steelers said when he was first villainized back in October after concussing a couple of plays on the Cleveland Browns and he said, "I try to hurt people, I don't try to injure people." And I think that the perceived distinction between hurting and injuring is kind of the dicey zone that the NFL and football tries to slide through.

CHIOTAKIS: We've heard from some players, some of whom are in your article as a matter of fact, who say they wish they'd never played the game. Do others believe the big paychecks make it worth the chance of injury?

MCGRATH: Of I think there are plenty of players who think it's worth it. Certainly the players who are playing now are paid a lot better than the man who I talked to who said he wished he'd never played the game -- never earned multi-million dollar contracts and I think the guys now look at it as, this is something we go into knowing the risks. And one of the questions that the sport is facing is, "Well, just how well do we know the risks?"

CHIOTAKIS: How much does the league figure injuries into the overall cost analysis? How cost effective to have all these injuries?

MCGRATH: Well, I think that depends on whether we think that the public's reaction to these injuries is ultimately going to affect it's interest in the sport. One of the things that the league worries about is down the line maybe fans are OK with watching this but the parents of high school players are not so cool with their kids playing. And maybe the game a generation from now dries up. You don't have as many people who grew up playing the game and therefore they're less likely to watch the game. So I think it's a long term cost perspective. Will the game still be the most popular sport in America in 25 years?

CHIOTAKIS: Ben McGrath, staff writer for the New Yorker. Thanks.

MCGRATH: Thank you.

About the author

Steve Chiotakis was the host of Marketplace Morning Report until January 2012.

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