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I Love the NFL but I Don’t Think Mill Would be a Big Fan

April 11, 2011

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Mill’s Harm Principle states that power can only be exercised against a member of society is to prevent that member of society from harming another non-consenting person. Therefore, if I feel like going skateboarding, even though I will most likely injure myself since I am awful skateboarder, the government has no right to intervene or tell me I cant. However, branching off of Mill’s Republican Liberty, the freedom from government intervention is not the only freedom, rather freedom from “domination” by others is the essential freedom. This relates to Mill’s objection against voluntary slavery, where his argument is based on the fact that one- someone who would enter a voluntary slavery is being coerced by someone who does not have their best interest at heart and that two- this person is absolving their freedom and therefore contradicting the very purpose of freedom. Knowing these fundamental beliefs of Mill I begin to address Professional Sports in light of Mill and the Harm Principle.
Take for instance the National Football League. From a young age, aspiring stars are afforded opportunities to showcase and hone their talents in NFL youth and flag football leagues. NFL scouts have their eyes on kids who are barely 18 and begin to envision them on their team from the following years. The life of an NFL star is portrayed as a life of glamor and riches, something hard to turn down especially for kids that grew up with next to nothing. However, the serious physical and emotional effects that result from an NFL career are becoming documented and show an alarming percentage of past NFL players that have withstood serious mental and physical trauma. Recently, players like Justin Strzelcyk, who died in fatal car crash, and Chris Henry, who died in another car incident, have proven that football players suffered from serious brain trauma, even if they aren’t suffering the much publicized concussions

Justin’s Story….

Another player's life ended early

Now to my point, If this sport is so detrimental to the health of its employees, is the NFL in violation of the Harm Principle and possibly further violating the notion of Republican Liberty. The NFL has come under harsh criticism from the medical community for its failure to recognize and address the issue. This is seen in this ESPN article : The atmosphere of that has existed in the NFL is frankly appalling.

The NFL presents an offer that few can turn down. If they envision their future life in the NFL, they can relax on their academics and prepare for the fame and riches of the NFL. So, the NFL is in a way coercing young people to enter their league, knowing fully that the future players will suffer serious harm to their mental and physical health. They are only encouraging young athletes to play the sport so that the business of the NFL can thrive and not for the benefit of the athletes. Mill believes that if a “business” is coercing a person into engaging in act that is clearly not in their best interest, the government may intervene( similar to prostitution and voluntary slavery). Although an individual player is only hurting themselves when they enter into the NFL, their physical and mental trauma also has far-reaching consequences for their families and friends that they leave when they will eventually die a young death. Further, by ignoring and failing to take action on concussions until very recently, the NFL was harming its players by promoting an unsafe environment that was too complacent to take action. Even today, concussions are as prevalent and no medical study or safety policy can take out the brutal nature of the sport. Although these athletes are consenting to playing in the NFL, they are doing so under a level of coercion and are suffering serious harm. The executives of the teams and the NFL benefit while the players sacrifice their bodies.

Robert Kraft- " I'm sorry I'm making so much money, what do you want me to do?"(not an actual quote)

The following video shows a medical professional testifying before the House Judiciary committee on NFL Player Head Injuries:

To conclude, I believe that Mill would want the American government to intervene and ban the sport. Mill is all for freedom and experiment in life but the NFL experiment has failed. It has allowed the executives and teams to dominate the players, coercing them to absolve their freedom and submit to a life of suffering. Although the NFL is a great source of revenue I believe Mill would posit that he harm  it subjects to its athletes should not be allowed by any legitimate government. In the name of the Harm Principle and Republican Liberty, lets say it with Mill: DOWN WITH THE NFL

  1. Adam Evanski permalink
    April 11, 2011 1:55 PM

    First off I love it when someone bring off the NFL. Second off the government has no say in this matter. The harm principle doesn’t apply here! Players enter the NFL knowing that it is a danger and sometimes life-threatening sport, and in no way should government stick their finger in this.

    • jasonkraman permalink
      April 11, 2011 4:19 PM

      thank you for your response Adam. I would like to respond to your point. Just because someone is knowingly entering a contract that is detrimental to their welfare does not mean that the harm principle cant apply. Further, to fully evaluate Mill and the Harm principle you must be aware of his view on Republican Liberty- which is that true freedom is the freedom from “domination”(or arbitrary rule of one upon another). Mill is opposed to prostitution for instance because even though the prostitutes know the danger of their profession, it doesn’t matter because they are either being coerced into the contract and are having their bodies ruled by another- thus absolving their freedom and losing the very purpose of freedom in the process. So, just because someone is consenting to the harm does not make it ok under Mill and his view on Republican Liberty. Also, due to the NFL in the past ignoring medical research on head injuries and their relation to professional football, some players have been unable to know the full effect of playing in the NFL Again, I am not myself advocating for government to ban the NFL, only viewing the situation through the lens of MILL. However, I will stand with my position that due to the domination of team over player and the “coercion” to get the young athletes to enter a sport that is so clearly threatening to their life, Mill would call for the government to ban the NFL.

  2. Jacob Saslow permalink
    April 11, 2011 4:51 PM

    I enjoyed this post a lot. I felt that it was very well thought out and used many media sources to support its points. I agree that the health problems with the NFL are becoming increasingly serious, and warrant much more attention than they are being given. It seems like each day there is a new study showing additional dangers and problems that players face from years of bone-crushing play. The NFL is one of the few professional sports where players aren’t given guaranteed contracts, so one injury and they lose all future gains. Players in the NFL are not treated as well as athletes in other sports. However, this post doesn’t look at the other players, the Tom Bradys and Peyton Mannings who have become rich and famous. Also, the NFL is like any other large American industry. As long as the rich are getting richer, it will difficult to shut it down. Like the tobacco industry, the NFL will continue to thrive even at the expense of its players. I do think that the sport will become safer with rule changes and technological advances. However, I do agree that players will continue to risk their health for the paycheck, and no matter how wrong, this will be tough to change, as there is not only a demand from fans and owners, but also an infinite number of aspiring young males striving for fame and wealth.

  3. Eric Chang permalink
    April 11, 2011 5:02 PM

    Jason, your blog post uses Mill’s ideas of government tyranny to suggest that the National Football League is a evil corporate entity that snatches recruits up, uses them, and spits battered players out. However, I do not think that the Harm Principle applies, since entry into the NFL is voluntary. The standout kid who plays quarterback for an outstanding educational institution doesn’t haven’t to “go pro.” He takes the offer because he knows that his talent on a football field is probably worth than his talent in a cubicle.

    I believe that the NFL actually benefits everyone. Players are able to advance themselves, achieving stardom, fame, and multi-million dollar contracts. Team owners or investors get richer. Fans enjoy the thrill of watching their favorite players bash each other. Players are voluntarily accepting risk to earn ten times more than they would make at a usual job.

    I disagree with your point that the “NFL was harming its players by promoting an unsafe environment that was too complacent to take action.” Rather, I think that medical awareness was much lower a few decades ago. Getting a concussion was simply getting “knocked out.” Players from the 80’s and 90’s are only now seeing the lasting long-term effects of concussions and physical tear on the body. We cannot blame the NFL for general society-wide lack of knowledge regarding concussions.

    Players sign contracts with the NFL willingly and happily. Annual salaries of six or seven digits far outweigh the risks of a few concussions. A star football player would be crazy to turn an NFL contract down, and a Millian argument is invalid. The results of the poll reflect that.

    • jasonkraman permalink
      April 11, 2011 11:58 PM

      First, Eric you are failing to realize that I do not solely rely on the Harm Principle for my argument. Mill’s belief on Republican Liberty does not concern itself with whether the person is voluntarily commiting to the harm. Mill clearly differentiates between matters of private issue and matters of public interest such as “free trade” and “business”. These matters of business are not a matter of individual liberty. I will not back down on my point that Mill would take issue with the poor men being unfairly influenced by the possibility of a big paycheck. It doesn’t matter that the kid “goes pro” voluntarily, it still is detrimental to his overall health by the substantial risk that exists by entering into the NFL. Drawing from my philosophy class that discusses political philosophy, If you relate Mill’s view to a practice like surrogacy, he would believe that it doesn’t matter if the woman is voluntarily entering the practice because it is out of desperation for money. Clearly the surrogacy contract poses great risk to the women’s health and would not be allowed by the Harm Principle due to the coercive nature. If you read more into the Harm Principle and read more of Mill’s work you will clearly see this is the fact. Also, if you read more about the NFL, you will see a history of the NFL neglecting the issue of concussions and just assuming that everything is fine see that link for more info if you havent already.
      Concluding, a Millian argument is completely valid and I urge you to reconsider your own argument.

  4. cfrankel permalink
    April 12, 2011 4:42 PM

    Jason, I do not agree with your point that the NFL is in violation of Mill’s Harm Principle. The NFL has instituted several rules to prevent some of the common injuries players could potentially suffer. An example includes the rule that prohibits a player form using his helmet to strike a player in a defenseless position in the head or neck. Take a look at this article:

    This article directly relates to how the NFL has instituted rules to prevent serious head injuries.
    Furthermore, I think you need to look a little more into your claim that, “They are only encouraging young athletes to play the sport so that the business of the NFL can thrive and not for the benefit of the athletes.” This is not true. The NFL encourages young athletes to play football for many more reasons than to continue the business aspect. Football is a sport that has represented our culture for decades. The NFL provides a unique opportunity for young players to play with the “best of the best”. It gives new players a chance to make their name in a PROFESSIONAL sport competing with the best competition possible.

    I also do not understand how you claim that players are submitting to a life of suffering. The average salary for an NFL player is $1.25 million. I don’t know many people who would consider earning that amount of money a submission to a life of suffering.

    Granted that the sport of football is dangerous, players know the risks involved. There are numerous rules that prevent serious injuries from occurring. Additionally, to compensate for the risk of playing and to award those who are at the top level of competition, the players, on average, make over $1 million a year.

    • jasonkraman permalink
      April 13, 2011 12:46 PM

      These links say enough…. its nice to have alot of money, although I will add the average career of an nfl player is only 3.5 years, but when the players deal with the things that these guys in the articles deal with. IT IS A LIFE OF SUFFERING. money is not everything. Also, the NFL has no purpose other than to continue its business operation, they dont care about the “culture” of America, thats a nice way to hide their true motive. Further no matter how many rules are institued the NFL will always be a very dangerous sport and the fact that the NFL facilities the play of the sport is enough to violate the harm principle.

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