"For all the drama, the excitement, the strategy, all the appealing things about football, the way football is currently played in the NFL is fundamentally unsustainable."
So said NBC's Bob Costas on Meet the Press this Super Bowl Sunday (video follows with transcript and commentary):
MR. ROGER GOODELL (NFL Commissioner): The changes we are making are having a positive impact. The game is exciting, competitive, tough, and safer. We’re making the game better by also evolving to a health and safety culture. That is a big priority.
CHUCK TODD, SUBSTITUTE HOST: And we’re back with Bob Costas of NBC Sports. Bob, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
MR. BOB COSTAS (NBC Sports): Hi Chuck.
TODD: He said the game is evolving to a culture of health and safety, which is another way of saying it’s not there yet.
MR. COSTAS: Oh, it’s definitely not there yet, but I think Goodell actually is well intentioned…
TODD: You do think he is?
MR. COSTAS: Yes, I think he is absolutely well-intentioned as a human being. I think he has made significant, positive strides. Obviously, as a businessman, he’s got to be concerned not only with the lawsuits which could wind up costing hundreds of millions, maybe even potentially billions of dollars. Now, the NFL is well-heeled, but these lawsuits are a serious thing with more than 4000 former players involved and probably more to come. And the other thing he has to be concerned about is the present generation and future generation of parents saying, look, we’re longtime NFL fans, but knowing what we know now, we’re not going to let our son play football. When I first posed that question to-- to Goodell…
TODD: To him, yes.
MR. COSTAS: ….nearly three years ago, people looked at me like I had two heads.
TODD: And then here you have the president. This is what he said in an interview with New Republic, “I’m a big football fan. But I have to tell you, if I had a son, I’d think long and hard before I let him play football. I think those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably have to change gradually.” There’s one study by USA Football, by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association that found an 11 percent decline in youth football participation. I can tell you, I have a five-year-old son. Every gathering of fathers, we have this conversation.
MR. COSTAS: And a lot of present players, including players like Bernard Pollard of the Ravens and Bart Scott of the Jets among the hardest hitters in the league…
TODD: Ed Reed this week said…
MR. COSTAS: …have already…
TODD: …he agreed with the president.
MR. COSTAS: Yeah.
TODD: And this is a guy that gets fined all the time.
MR. COSTAS: Ex-- exactly. Exactly. Thomas Jones recently retired, one of the toughest players in the league. He told me this past week that when his Bears played the Colts in the Super Bowl, I gave him a hypothetical. If a teammate of yours has a chance to sack Peyton Manning and he simply sacked him, but he could have legally splattered him, would he-- would you have been disappointed in that teammate? He said yes, I would have wanted him to splatter Peyton Manning and knock him out of the game. In the next breath, he says I’m going to donate my brain, however, to be studied afterwards because I understand the effects of the game. And to me, Chuck, here’s the key thing. No matter how hard Goodell and company try, and no matter how sincere they are to eliminate things like bounties. And more important to eliminate the obvious illegal hits to the head and encourage lowering the target and no head-to-head contact, the way football is played, even legal hits are frightening.
TODD: They’re faster. They’re stronger than they were even 10 years ago.
MR. COSTAS: Bernard Pollard’s hit on Stevan Ridley of the Patriots in AFC Championship game not only was a completely legal hit, it was celebrated as the essence of football. His coach, John Harbaugh an admirable man, can be heard on NFL film saying, BP, BP, that’s the way the game is played. And yet that hit is no less barbaric and no less dangerous than one that would get you suspended.
TODD: So, who takes the leadership role here? Is it the players? I say this. Alex Smith is the backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers in this game because he was out with a concussion.
MR. COSTAS: Correct.
TODD: He will not-- what player will self report? They are going to lose their starting job if they self report on this front. So, if the players aren’t going to do it, is it going to take more people like the president speaking out, the Congress? Teddy Roosevelt made the NCAA safe-- created the NCAA because of football deaths. Is that what it’s going to take?
MR. COSTAS: Well, DeMaurice Smith, the head of the Players Association is pushing for increased safety measures. And next year there are going to be independent neurologists on the sidelines that can diagnose and potentially treat concussions as they happen. But one of the things we have to keep in mind is this that all the research shows that it isn’t just the diagnosed concussions, it’s the hundreds if not thousands, of sub-concussive hits…
TODD: That they couldn’t diagnose 10 years ago.
MR. COSTAS: Exactly. Those are the ones that actually cumulatively take a greater toll than the concussions. Junior Seau, who killed himself, shot himself in the chest so they could preserve his brain…
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TODD: Could save his brain.
MR. COSTAS: …just like Dave Duerson did, never had a diagnosed concussion in his entire career.
TODD: Is football going to go the way of boxing? And then let me ask you this. If football overcompensates on the safety front, do they risk an MMA version of football that actually becomes more popular?
MR. COSTAS: If they overcompensate…
MR. COSTAS: …on-- well…
TODD: It’s too safe, and you see suddenly people embrace…
MR. COSTAS: …well-- well, they-- they-- they start a different kind of league.
MR. COSTAS: They start a-- uh, a parallel league. I don’t know. I guess there are some people who unlike me-- I like football despite its violence.
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TODD: The violence. Yeah.
MR. COSTAS: A lot of people like it primarily because of the violence. But I will say this.
TODD: All right.
MR. COSTAS: For all the drama, the excitement, the strategy, all the appealing things about football, the way football is currently played in the NFL is fundamentally unsustainable.
TODD: Bob Costas, I’m going to leave this part of the conversation here.
Have a fun Super Bowl Sunday everyone!!!