GREEN BAY, Wis. — The popularity of the NFL is unquestioned across the United States. But for high-ranking executives such as Green Bay Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy, there is significant concern about how much longer that can last if player safety isn’t continually addressed.
Murphy told a crowd of 13,000 people at Lambeau Field during the franchise’s annual shareholders meeting Wednesday that it could “start to erode football” if parents don’t let their sons play the game at a young age due to fear of long-term injuries.
As Murphy met with reporters following his public address, he further pushed the tremendous importance of the NFL’s attempts at increasing player safety.
“I’m not saying the world’s ending; I’m not Chicken Little, but it’s a real concern, particularly concussions,” Murphy said. “When I was playing (from 1977-84), you never thought that having a concussion would create problems down the road. It was never a thought. Now there’s so much written about problems that players are having, and is it related to concussions? I think it’s a real concern.”
Murphy brought up the pending lawsuit that 4,000 former players have against the NFL to illustrate the size of the problem.
“Not to pick on other sports, but we’ve looked at it; You don’t want to go the way of boxing,” Murphy said. “You think back to the ’50s and ’60s and how popular boxing was, it just got to the point where the injuries and the health problems of the sport were just so bad that it turned off fans. I think that’s a concern that we all have.
“Objectively, you look at the popularity of the NFL and it may not have ever been at a higher level in terms of ratings and attendance, but it can change quickly. So I think we have to be, I wouldn’t say overly aggressive, but have to be really willing to look at the game and make changes that will make it safer.
“You look at at the Collective Bargaining Agreement, that was a real focus of certainly the players and the owners; what can we do to make it safer? And to provide benefits for players after their careers end.”
Murphy, who is also part of the league’s competition committee, is pleased with the NFL’s decision to penalize players who make or initiate contact with the crown of the helmet. He also mentioned the new rule requiring all players to wear thigh and knee pads.
“In some ways, we’re trying to change the culture,” Murphy said. “You want to get the shoulder back in the game. It’s funny, when you watch film clips from the (Vince) Lombardi era and even before that, players tackled differently. It was wrapping up and tackling and you didn’t see the kill shots and going for the knockouts with the helmets. I think the league has done a number of things in terms of rules, but it’s also enforcement, too.
“It’s a little bit of a balancing act. Part of what makes the game so popular is it’s fast and it’s physical, but we need to be really careful. Because if you end up having, if it continues to get worse in terms of concussions and injuries, I think you really could be risking the future of the game.”
There are few statements stronger than those final few words from Murphy. Even the suggestion the NFL “could be risking the future of the game” is a clear indication the league’s executives believe there is a lot more work to do in — as Murphy put it — changing the culture of football.