What was the real motive behind the NFL’s announcement last week that it was requiring its players to wear thigh and knee pads for the 2013 season?
It could have been that the NFL genuinely cares about its players. Don’t laugh. The lockout aside, the NFL has, over the years, acted like a father might act around his children, punishing where necessarily or, more importantly in this case, protecting them.
Another motive might have been for the league to continue to demonstrate a pattern of looking out for the health interest of its players. While it may have nothing to do with the past, regarding concussion research and what the NFL did or did not know, such a pattern may influence a jury, or at least the public’s perception of how much the NFL cares about its players.
More likely, however, its motive is one of strengthening its image as the concussion litigation draws near. The NFL doesn’t want to settle these cases unless it has to. The stronger the “Shield,” the more options the league has to ride this out.
One potential ally the NFL will not have at it’s disposal is the NFL Players Association. When the announcement of the equipment mandate was made, Union head DeMaurice Smith sought to subtly expose the NFL’s motive in a well-thought out statement:
“Any change in working conditions is a collectively-bargained issue. While the NFL is focused on one element of health and safety today, the NFLPA believes that health and safety requires a comprehensive approach and commitment. We are engaged in and monitor many different issues, such as players’ access to medical records, prescription usage and the situation with professional football’s first responders, NFL referees. We always look forward to meeting with the NFL to discuss any and all matters related to player health and safety.”