American football is one of the most popular games in the USA. It is popular among people of all ages; moreover, children as young as five years old start practicing American football (Field and Kidd 12). Sports offer an avenue for social change and development (Olympic.org). The league that controls American football is the National Football League that was formed in 1920. As with other sports, injuries are common in American football. However, the National Football League (NFL) was under an increased scrutiny in the past regarding the effect of the game on mortality and quality of the players` life. There have been several cases including the suicide of the former Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson. There is also a case of premature death of long-time Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster. These issues have brought the issue of safety in the sport to the attention of the media. The public always seeks to know what the Football League Foundation is doing to guarantee the safety of the players. In August 2013, the NFL made an attempt to resolve a lawsuit by former players who claimed that the league intentionally downplayed the risks of concussion and related brain injuries. The NFL agreed to provide $765 million as compensation to the victims. It would also pay for medical examinations for four thousand and five hundred plaintiffs and other retired players, in addition to, engaging in a medical research (Craig). It is the sport’s nature that resulted in the introduction of the National Football League Foundation.
The National Football League Foundation was established in 2012 after the restructuring of National Football League’s philanthropic organizations. It is a non-profit organization, which is devoted to the development of lives of people related to football, including all players of all levels across the country, their families and the society at large (NFL Foundation). These philanthropic foundations were the NFL Youth Football Fund and the NFL Charities. The NFL Charities consisted of thirty two member clubs; it was created to enable the teams to make grants to charitable and worthwhile causes on a national scale. In 1998, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) and the NFL formed the NFL Youth Football Fund, a non-profit foundation to support the football game at the youth level. Its mission also included the promotion of positive youth development and ensuring that football is maintained healthy for the future generations. The NFL foundation was established upon the history of charitable causes of the two organizations. The decision of the NFL to form NFL Foundation was prompted by the necessity to promote its philanthropic efforts under a single group, in order to ease management and increase efficiency and, as a result, to have a greater impact on the society. The foundation is dedicated towards the improvement of the health and safety of youth football, sports and the community at large.
National Football League and Issues in the Society
Since ancient times, different kinds of sports have been used for social integration and to change the behavior within the society (Bass 73). It is evident that sports have a great power and are able to create communities, cross societal barriers, unite nations, and impact the emotions of the entire society, from the poor to the rich (Olympic.org). Therefore, sports provide an avenue to promote social change within the society. There have been several issues in the American society that affect the National Football League. These issues take different perspectives, including social, healthy, legal, and ethical issues (Craig).
Concussions and the NFL
Concussion-related issues have become commonly discussed. It is mainly due to the televised games of professional football. It is common to hear about a player who is recuperating or returning to play after sustaining a concussion. According to statistics approximately 1.6 to 3.0 million concussions occur annually in the USA. A concussion occurs as a result of a blow to the head or a sudden bump directly to the head. A concussion can be defined as a direct or indirect pressure to the head resulting in an immediate, short-lived, neurological impairment including amnesia, loss of consciousness and confusion, which happens spontaneously, and is typically followed by physical, cognitive, emotional symptoms and sleep disturbance (Slobounov and Sebastianelli 2006). Although a concussion is not a serious injury, if one is not properly diagnosed and treated promptly, it may lead to permanent brain damage or, in some cases, death. Concussions are the main cause of more than 100,000 Emergency Room children visits each year (Kamberg 2011). Concussions have become a concern in the society and have made it to the major headlines. It is as a result of many players suing the NFL over complications from concussions sustained during play.
As a result of the multiple issues surrounding concussions and the NFL, the NFL Foundation has started an activity related to health and safety. The foundation is committed to protecting the health and safety of all athletes in all sports, especially football. The health of young football players is a priority for their coaches and parents (Mihoces (b)). As a result, the NFL foundation is supporting the Heads Up Football in its initiative to promote safety in sports. Heads Up Football is a program developed by the USA Football, and it is an initiative that ensures safety in football (USA Football). It is done through a variety of programs, resources, promotions and applications. It focuses on creating change and addressing the complex challenges that face the safety and health of players, especially in high school and youth football. The key components include equipment and fitting, awareness and recognition of concussions, education and certification, heat and hydration, and heads up tackling. American society is very supportive of football, but some people are ignorant of the safety measures that should be included when playing to ensure that players are safe and, as a result, they lead a safe and quality life. Through this initiative, the NFL Foundation has been able to promote change in the behavior of people, including parents, coaches and young players, so that they check on their safety during sports. Once the society makes the behavioral change and starts observing the safety measures during sports, there will be a decrease in the occurrence of serious concussion cases, which sometimes lead to mental illnesses and death.
The NFL and the Minority
There are several groups of people within American society who get sidelined from the mainstream livelihood as a result of their differences and diversity. Minority groups are groups of people, who are diverse from the majority of the population, due to their sexual orientation, disability, race, skin color and gender among others (Miller and David 7). In addition to the physical well-being, sports also play a vital role in the growth of a peaceful and prosperous society. It is especially because it has a worldwide network and educational values. Through sports, it is possible to bridge ethnic and cultural divides, promote non-discrimination and tolerance, and strengthen social integration (Fletcher). Although the development of sports may not be a panacea for all the issues affecting the disadvantaged and minorities, it offers an avenue for the generation of positive impact and development (Polite and Billy 59). Some minority groups are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) individuals. The LGBT is a group of people who are either attracted to people of the same sex or who have transformed their sexual orientation either partially or completely.
The NFL faces multiple challenges when dealing with the issues in regard to minority groups such as LGBT (Stulberg). Former Missouri defensive lineman, Michael Sam, made a public announcement of his sexual orientation as gay. He was named a first-team All-American for his play during the 2013 season (Greenberg). The defensive player has the eligibility to be included in the 2014 NFL Draft, and if this happens, he may become the first active player in the league’s history, who is openly gay. In his statement, he stated that he understood the repercussions of his announcement on his career, and although he was nervous, he believed it was for the betterment of the league. After telling his teammates about his sexual orientation at the beginning of the 2013 season, they continued playing as they always did. He was even rated the 12th best outside pass rusher available for the NFL Draft. Since the revelation of his sexual orientation, other NFL players have supported Sam (Kalaf). Although the NFL has been silent, it is possible for Sam to be included in the NFL draft. The inclusion of some minority groups, such as, the LGBT is yet to be seen. However, there is no discrimination based on race or other differences.
The NFL and Health Issues
The NFL Foundation is at the forefront in the fight against health problems affecting players and the society at large. The foundation has taken initiative to acknowledge the health issues, which may be affecting players, as well as, other members of the society. In addition to concussions, the players also suffer mental health issues. These include depression, eating disorders, anxiety, and anger issues. It is especially prevalent among young players who are still in school. According to Timothy Neal, an assistant director of athletics at the Syracuse University, one in every five teenagers suffers from mental illnesses, which a physician or a psychiatrist can diagnose (Mihoces (a)). Most of the students suffering from mental illnesses usually deny it and do not accept that they are suffering. Most Americans look forward to the Super Bowl, but when one thinks of the suffering that some of the professional players may face later in life, it becomes difficult to enjoy the game. There have been reports of professional football players and other retired athletes committing a suicide or starting to abuse substances. Although the NFL Foundation is taking measures to ensure that young football players understand the importance of safety when playing, they do not take care of those retired players who suffer from different mental conditions. For instance, former New England Patriots’ linebacker, Ted Johnson, suffers from a serious brain injury that causes him to miss appointments, forget people’s names, and, moreover, he is addicted to amphetamines. The NFL Foundation should establish a way of assisting the former players, like Ted, who is only 34 years old, so that the quality of their life can be improved. Although the NFL Foundation is taking the initiative in relation to health, a lot is still to be done, and this initiative is yet to succeed.
However, the NFL is also supporting the community through other initiatives such as awareness creation. The NFL has supported the breast cancer victims through awareness creation during the games. During the Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the team members have to wear a pink ribbon. Moreover, a pink ribbon is painted at the middle of the stadium. During the month, it is common to see pink penalty flags, pink goal posts and pink equipment during the games. The main reason of pink paraphernalia is the NFL’s annual effort to raise awareness and correct funds in support of the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The funds collected are channeled towards the research into cancer at the American Cancer Society. It is important for the world to understand the problem of breast cancer. There is a probability that one in every eight women worldwide will suffer from breast cancer. However, if detected during the early stages, there is a ninety percent probability that it can be eradicated. As a result of NFL’s popularity, the NFL Foundation has taken the initiative of ensuring that, during the Breast Cancer Awareness Month, awareness is created in order to ensure that people understand the issue. This attempt to create awareness and promote social change has been a success as many people have become aware of the problem while watching their favorite NFL games.
The NFL Foundation and Public Discourse
The NFL Foundation uses different avenues and media to create awareness and promote social change. These avenues include events, programs, advertisements, and campaigns among others. Depending on an initiative that the foundation seeks to promote, a different avenue or media is used. One of the most visual NFL campaigns is the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The National Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Since 2009, the National Football League has been in collaboration with the American Cancer Society to support the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month that takes place in October (American Cancer Society). It is probably the most visual campaign by the NFL. It is mainly because of the use of the games played during the month to ensure that the public becomes aware of the issues related to breast cancer in America and globally. The initiative is usually about the promotion of breast cancer awareness and it also encourages women aged forty and over to get mammograms annually so as to detect breast cancer in the early states, when its treatment is most successful. In the 2013 campaign, the players had a special pink NFL shield or ribbon on their helmets, the coaches and team executives wore pink ribbon pins, and the game officials wore pins and special pink ribbon hats. Special footballs used in each game had pink ribbon logos. There were also pink accent sideline hats for players, sideline personnel and the coaches. The stadiums also had pink sideline and quarterback towels, cleats and gloves. In addition, the NFL provided the sale of pink merchandise at the NFL stadiums, on NFLSHOP.com and through other retail outlets. Additionally, all the footballs and other game-worn pink items were auctioned off on the NFL Auction website with all proceeds benefiting the American Cancer Society.
Additionally, the teams extend the reach of the NFL Foundation throughout the nation through the local grassroots efforts. They focus on promoting screening of breast cancer, honoring the survivors of breast cancer, and also planning and implementing special in-stadium or pregame events in coordination with the American Cancer Society. The NFL Foundation also used the main NFL website to create a microsite, NFL.com/pink, in order to feature stories of women who have benefited from the breast cancer programs in their communities. In addition, the foundation also organized the inclusion of high school students in the campaign through several events. It was conducted through a game day fundraiser that included pledge donations, pink out game, sponsorships, school rivalry, coin wars, luminaria, beat the clock challenge, and wall of hope among other events. Since the NFL games receive airtime and many people watch them, the message about the cancer initiative is received by millions of people across America and abroad.
In order to support other initiatives in the society and promote change, the foundation offers grant programs, for example, NFL Foundation grassroots grant, youth football camp grant, NFL player matching youth football grant, NFL team program grant, NFL club matching youth football grant program, NFL player foundation grant, and the pro bowl community grant (NFL Foundation). Through these grants, the foundation makes an impact on the social life of players and communities. Most of the grants focus on young people and, therefore, enable them to focus and prepare adequately for professional careers in the NFL league. These grants also enable the nurturing of young talents to ensure that potential professional football players focus their attention on their studies and football practice. On March 24, 2014, the National Football League Foundation approved a grant of $45 million to USA Football (49ers). This grant is to be channeled towards the development of youth football over the next five years. USA Football will deploy the funds into its programs that include the NFL Punt, Heads Up Football, Pass & Kick, and NFL FLAG programs (USA Football). These programs ensure that the message about the importance of health and safety reaches the football players. This avenue is a success because USA Football programs reach the intended groups of people, and they have a national coverage.
The NFL Foundation Pro Bowl Community Grant offers funding opportunities to Hawaiian non-profit organizations in order to celebrate the Pro Bowl game. The organizations that receive the grant must have programs that serve the youth in Hawaii. On January 26, the 2014 Pro Bowl was played in Honolulu (NFL Foundation). The Youth Football Camp Grant supports the NFL coaches and players who organize and host free, non-contact youth football camps during the summer. Prior to participating in the camps, the coaches must complete an online course regarding concussion awareness and prevention, and heat and hydration. The Grassroots Program is a partnership of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and the NFL Foundation. The NFL Foundation provides the funding for the program, while the LISC manages the program and provides technical assistance. The program aims at providing non-profit neighborhood-based organizations with technical and financial assistance to improve the accessibility, quality and safety of the local football fields. The fact that these programs operate at the community level enables the NFL Foundation to use them when communicating crucial messages in relation to changes in the behavior of the society (NFL Foundation).
NFL Social Change Advertisements
The NFL Foundation takes the initiative of advertising the social issues that they feel should change. It takes place through the mainstream media including television, radio, the NFL website, posters, banners, and billboards. The foundation may create special advertisements about the change that is needed, or can advertise the change together with other advertisements regarding games. For instance, during the Super Bowl, there were multiple advertisements in regard to the games. In addition, they also carried a message about social change. Since the NFL is a major national initiative, it receives an intense media attention and, as a result, its initiatives are closely monitored by the media. Therefore, when the foundation is about to start a program, the media gives it airtime and publicity, therefore, people get the intended message. In addition, during the football games, the foundation uses stadium posters to pass the intended message to people. For example, during the National Breast Cancer Month, the foundation uses pink paraphernalia to guarantee that the message reaches the intended audience. The foundation also uses its website, NFL Foundation.com, to communicate with the public about the social issues that require change. For example, during the 2013 breast cancer campaign, the foundation used a microsite, NFL.com/pink, to communicate the important issues related to breast cancer. The use of advertisements has been successful in passing the message. However, there are still many avenues that the foundation can use to ensure that the message reaches people in relation to an advertisement. For example, the foundation can make use of the jerseys put on by the players during the games, and print social change messages. Such an initiative can increase the number of people who receive the message, and since the fans relate more closely with individual players, it is possible for them to acknowledge the messages printed on the jerseys.
It is clear that American football is one of the most popular and favorite game in the USA. The National Football League has a social responsibility towards American citizens (Osborne). The league has a national presence and it is also watched internationally. As a result, it is an important platform to initiate programs channeled towards social change (Ogi). Issues relating to minority groups, health awareness, and safety in the sport have been at the top of the National Football League’s priority list. It is both an initiative to assist the community, and an expectation of the society from such an influential group. As a result, the National Football League established the National Football League Foundation after restructuring the NFL Youth Football Fund, and the NFL Charities, in 2012. The foundation has a mission of promoting positive youth development and ensuring that football remains safe and healthy for the future generations.
Some of the issues in the society that relate to the National Football League Foundation include health campaigns, minority groups in the league, and concussions. As a result of the increase in concussion-related issues in America resulting from playing football, the NFL has a responsibility of ensuring the safety of both professional and amateur players. The NFL had to solve lawsuits filed against it by retired professional players, who suffered from different medical conditions as a result of injuries sustained during game. The NFL Foundation started programs aimed at creating awareness of concussions and the importance of proper playing gear. Young people are targeted by the project as they can be saved from concussion-related issues. The NFL Foundation has also collaborated with the American Cancer Society to create awareness during the National Breast Cancer Month, held every October. The initiative is successful as it has a wide coverage across the country. The initiative also involves collecting funds that are donated to the American Cancer Society that conducts different researches into cancer. The foundation has programs that it funds and which are run in collaboration with other non-profit organizations to guarantee safety of players. Through these programs and initiatives, the organization has been able to achieve and promote social change, for instance, young people understand the importance of safety during a game. However, the foundation is yet to achieve success in issues relating to taking care of retired professional players who have health issues. In addition, it should make a statement about the inclusion of minorities, such as players belonging to LGBT (Collegianadmin).