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Professional football reigns as the king of American sports, attracting not only millions of male fans but also growing legions of female enthusiasts. National Football League games regularly top U.S. television ratings, and more than 100 million people tuned in to this year's Super Bowl, setting a viewership record for the annual spectacle. But football at all levels is embroiled in controversies that sports scholars believe could tarnish the NFL's iconic stature. Studies showing a high incidence of brain injury in former players could reduce youth participation in football, a key source of players for the NFL, and repel fans concerned about the sport's violent nature. In addition, domestic violence and other criminal acts by NFL players have made big headlines and put NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in the hot seat for his handling of player discipline. Meanwhile, economists and other critics are questioning whether cities that have helped owners build lavish, tax-supported stadiums to attract or retain NFL teams are getting a solid return on their investment.
The NFL expects nearly one-third of former players to develop long-term cognitive problems at a younger age than the general population.
New regulations aim to protect player safety.
“Deflategate” is the NFL’s biggest ongoing controversy.
Some players say NFL punishment decisions are unfair.
|1920–1941||New sport of professional football begins slow but steady growth.|
|1951–1968||NFL's popularity grows, spurred by the game's growing TV presence.|
|1970–1998||Football's dominance grows with the success of TV's “Monday Night Football,” but player discontent also rises.|
|2000-Present||NFL remains America's dominant pro sport, but league struggles with controversies.|
Can football retain its appeal if it is made significantly safer?
Captain, NFL Players Association Trust; Former linebacker, Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans.
Author, Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile; Former tight end, Denver Broncos.