Most of the players are relatively young, age-wise, when they leave the game. But the majority of their injuries only take their toll as the former players age. The NFL only pays for medical care, for on-the-field injuries, for five years after a player retires. From Emptywheels writeup:
Before we get down to the weekly game talk, there is a serious side of the business of football, a part that is not a game, that needs to be discussed. The long term health concerns of the players. As seemingly well paid and glamorous a job professional football player seems to be, the fact is when their career is over, these men are still relatively quite young chronologically but much older, physically compromised and beat up physically and, far too often as we now know, mentally too. The video from former NFL player and current NFL Player’s Association staff member Nolan Harrison describes player injuries as they relate to health and safety on the field and once a career is over.Yes, we all know about the big bucks the big stars get, but as Wheel says, the majority of the players do not get those types of paychecks...not to mention guaranteed contracts are virtually non-existent in the NFL, so if a player has a career-ending injury..he is pretty well fucked, regardless of the size and length of his current contract.
The National Football League is insanely profitable. The average NFL game attendance league wide is 67,519. For every game of a 16 game schedule, and if you were not aware, teams make customers buying season tickets also buy tickets to at least two, sometimes three, preseason games at full regular season face value as part of the season ticket package. That is before you even get to the otherworldly television broadcast packages the NFL has negotiated, which are the most lucrative, by far, of any in the entertainment/sports industry. For the period of 2006 to 2013, the broadcast rights fees generated are: CBS $622.5 million/yr, Fox $712.5 million/yr, NBC $650 million/yr, and ESPN $1.1 billion/yr for a total yearly broadcast revenue of $3.085 billion per year. That is without delving into perhaps the most profitable income streams for NFL owners, the ancillary modalities such as merchandizing, advertising and concessions. There is a lot of money being made here, total revenue for the league was estimated to be over $6 Billion a year five years ago; it is undoubtedly significantly higher now.
With NFL owners threatening a lockout unless players agree to major concessions, the NFL is headed for a labor dispute that would leave stadium seats empty, TV screens blank and the Emptywheel Blog Trashless next fall. The knee jerk reaction may be that it is hard to get too worked up over a battle between billionaire owners and millionaire players, but keep in mind that the average NFL player is not Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, has a average salary of well less than a million dollars a year and the average NFL career is only 3.5 years. That is pretty limited compared to the owners who have a lifetime license to sit back print money.(emphasis mine)
Long term health issues are real for the players in the NFL, be it multiple concussions that can turn their brains to mush as they age (like Muhammad Ali sadly exhibits now in his later years) or knees that are tore-the-fuck-up, making even walking a painful chore, before they even hit 35-40 years old.
Like the veterans of our wars should be able to rely on our government to take care of war wounds that last a lifetime, the NFL players should be able to rely on the rich owners providing health care for their on-the-field injuries when they leave the game.