Meet the Press   |  February 03, 2013

NFL culture, tackles and lawsuits

NBC Sports, Bob Costas joins Meet the Press to discuss the concerns that linger about player safety and the future of the game.

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>>> the changes we are making are having a positive impact. the game is exciting, competitive, tough. and safer. we are making the game better by also evolving to a health and safety culture. that is a big priority.

>> and we're back with bob costas of nbc sports . bob, welcome back to "meet the press."

>> chuck.

>> you said the game is evolving to a culture of health and safety , which is another way of saying it's not there yet.

>> oh, it's definitely not there yet. but i think goodell is actually well intentioned.

>> you do think so?

>> yes. i think he is absolutely well-intentioned as a human being . i think he has made significant, positive strides. obviously, as a businessman, he's got to be concerned not only with the lawsuits which could wind up costing hundreds of millions, maybe even potentially billions of dollars. now the nfl is well-heeled, but the lawsuits are a serious thing with more than 4,000 former players involved, and probably more to come. and the other thing he has to be concerned about is the present generation and future generation of parents saying, look, we're longtime nfl fans, but knowing what we know now, we're not going to let our son play football . when i first posed that question to goodell nearly three years ago, people looked at me like i had two heads.

>> and then here you have the president. this is what he said in an interview with new republic. i'm a big football fan. but if i had a son, i'd think long and hard to see if i would let him play football . there's one study that found that an 11% decline in youth football participation. i can tell you, i have a 5-year-old son. every gathering of fathers we have this conversation.

>> and a lot of present players, including players like bernard pollard of the ravens and bart scott of the jets among the hardest hitters in the league.

>> ed reed this week said he agreed with the president. and this is a guy that gets fined all the time.

>> exactly. thomas jones recently retired. one of the toughest players in the league. he told me this past week that when his bears played the colts in the super bowl , i gave him a hypothetical. if a teammate of yours has a chance to sack peyton manning and he simply sacked him, but he could have legally splattered him, would you have been disappointed in that teammate? he said yes, i would have wanted him to splatter peyton manning and knock him out of the game. in the next breath, he says i'm going to donate my brain, however, to be studied afterwards because i understand the effects of the game. and to me, chuck, here's the key thing. no matter how hard goodell and company try, and no matter how sincere they are to eliminate things like bounties, and more important to eliminate the obvious illegal hits to the head and encourage lowering the target and no head-to-head contact, the way football is played, even legal hits are frightening.

>> they're faster. they're stronger than they were even 10 years ago.

>> bernard pollard 's hit on steven ridly of the patriots not only was a completely legal hit, it was celebrated as the essence of football . his coach, john harbaugh , admirable man, can be heard on nfl film saying, b.p., b.p., that's the way the game is played. and yet that hit is no less barbaric or dangerous than one that would get you suspended.

>> who takes the leadership role here? is it the players? i say this. alex smith is the backup quarterback for the san francisco 49ers in this game because he was out with a concussion.

>> correct.

>> what player will self report? they are going to lose their starting job if they self report on this front. if the players aren't going to do it, is it going to take more people like the president speaking out? the congress. teddy roosevelt created the ncaa because of a death.

>> well, the players association is pushing for increased safety measures. and next year there are going to be independent neurologists on the sidelines that can diagnose and potentially treat concussions as they happen. but one of the things we have to keep in mind is this. that all the research shows it isn't just the diagnosed concussions. it's the hundreds, if not thousands, of subconcussive hits --

>> that they couldn't diagnose 10 years ago.

>> right. those are the ones that cumulatively take a greater toll than the concussions. junior seau , who killed himself , shot himself in the chest so they could observe his brain, never had a diagnosed concussion in his entire career.

>> is football going to go the way of boxing? and let me ask you this. if football overcompensated on the safety front, do they risk an mma version of football that actually becomes more entertainment?

>> if they overcompensate --

>> it's too safe, and suddenly you see --

>> well, they start a different kind of league, a parallel league? i don't know. i guess there are some people who unlike me, i like football despite its violence. a lot of people like it primarily because of the violence. but i will say this. for all the drama, the excitement, the strategy, all the appealing things about football , the way football is currently played in the nfl is fundamentally unsustainable.