It is the great American game. There is little the NFL does wrong these days.
Fans continue to pack its stadia. Television ratings remain high. Tailgating is alive and well. If you can tolerate all the giggling associated with the network pregame shows, there's little not to like. Until you take a closer look.
Last week, the NFL paid $765 million to settle a lawsuit brought by 4,500 former players. The concussion settlement. True, the money was less than half of what was sought and the league did not admit to anything, but the fact remains that the almighty NFL caved.
Common sense tell you that the money didn't matter that much. The sum of that settlement represents a mere eight percent of the NFL's annual revenues, and the $765 million is being paid out over a 17-year period.
Common sense also tells you that if the NFL really had nothing to hide, it wouldn't have been willing to pay out a dime. Arrogance is its strong suit. The concussion debate isn't going away. Nor should it.
Current players scoff at the rules changes designed to make the game safer and a little less violent. But they'll be 50 someday too, and their bodies will have a score to settle. If the players are lucky, they'll still be able to think straight. If they're lucky, they won't suffer from depression. If they're lucky, there will be life, real life after football.
The NFL can take a sympathetic stance. It can change its rules. It can fund research into head injuries. But its main concern is that the supply of players, disposable as they may be, continues.
Football at the developmental stage through high school has made great proactive strides in protecting its players. A generation of coaches who believed that water breaks and the like demonstrated weakness, have largely aged out. But injuries are still going to happen. Serious injuries. Head injuries.
School systems, already strapped for funds, will find themselves on the receiving end of similar lawsuits. Some of those school systems will opt to drop the sport. Well-meaning parents may just decide that the unquestionable benefits of participating in football, no longer outweigh the dangers.
When that happens, and it will, the NFL will need to be proactive to keep those supply lines open. They'll have the concussion settlement to thank.
Bill Pucko is a career journalist, an award-winning writer and broadcaster. He has worked for more than 30 years in television, radio, and newspapers in Rochester. He is a sports columnist for the Messenger Post Newspapers, co-founded and editor of Bylinesports.com, and producer and host of a high school sports show on WBGT.