Since its inception in 1920, the National Football League (NFL) has gone from a barnstorming league where teams would travel across the country to play in college stadiums to a $16 billion industry as of last year, according to USA Today.
The inaugural game this year featured two of the three oldest franchises in the league, the Chicago Bears, founded by George Halas in 1920, and the Green Bay Packers, founded by Curly Lambeau in 1919, as an independent team.
What spurred the exponential growth of the league into the behemoth it is today was the AFL (American Football League) and NFL merger in 1970.
The merge happened over a four year period beginning in 1966 and with the influx of talent and new teams, allowed the combined league to grow and prosper.
Although the league is more profitable than ever before in its 100th season, in recent years there have been growing concerns about what happens to players after they retire.
One of the stories that made the general population aware of the perils of football was what happened to Steelers center Mike Webster.
Webster played 14 seasons for the Steelers, two with the Chiefs, and was a 4x Super Bowl champion. After he retired in 1990, he began to struggle with mood swings, irritability and was hooked on prescription pills.
When he died in 2002 at 50, Bennet Omalu took tissue from his brain and found that Webster suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, which occurs from continual brain trauma and is common in retired professional boxers as well.
As this case and others with former NFL players suffering from CTE came to light, the league realized they needed to make the game safer and has created rules using their competition committee to protect players from using their helmets to initiate contact.
Additionally, the league has cracked down on blindside hits and other hits that used to be the content of sports highlight shows.
In addition to making improvements on the field to the game, in 2020 the NFL will increase the number of Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees from around eight members to 20 according to an article from Pro Football Talk.
The league’s growth has mirrored America’s growth over the past 100 years and the question on owners’, players’ and even fans’ minds as the Sunday spectacle continues is: “What’s next?” and can the league continue to thrive even as the public learns more about the risks of football, physical and otherwise.
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