Meet the Press   |  February 02, 2014

The Future of Football

David Gregory sits down with Tony Dungy and Alan Schwarz to discuss the neurological risks taken by professional football players.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> in the meadowlands in new jersey, the did he ever wrong keenz seattle seahawks get ready to play super bowl xlviii . everybody's talking about football on the biggest day of the year. but the less popular question is whether the future of football is in doubt because of the growing number of concussions and lasting head injuries to the players. to help me go deeper on this issue, i'm joined by alan schwarz of "the new york times" who has covered the concussion story from the start and " nbc sports " analyst, the terrific tony dungy , the head coach of the indianapolis colts the last time peyton manning won a super bowl . welcome to you both. i'm very glad to have you here.

>> nice to be here, david, thank you.

>> i want to make a disclosure before we start our discussion. my wife beth is an attorney that represents the nfl . she was part of the legal team that negotiated this agreement between the nfl and the players over concussions. so with that out of the way, lets me talk about that settlement. let me put it up on the screen what it represents. it is a concussion settlement worth $765 million covering current retired players for conditions that develop over the next 65 years allen, a lot of the commentary is this was a great deal for the nfl and now it risks being unrabled by the judge who may conclude there's not enough money here to pay for all the damage that's been done.

>> well, it's a question really of, is it enough morally, should these men be given more money because of the injuries they sustained, but the way i looked at it and the times looked at it the other day, is it enough air arithmetically. you're promising an unknown number of players sometimes up to $4 million for their developing conditions such as dementia, alzheimers, als, parkinson parkinson's, things like that, but you don't know how many of the currently retired players will develop these conditions. and so you can't put a hard cap of 765 and it's it's actually 712 when you cut it down, you can't do that if you don't know how many players there are going to be.

>> tony dungy , one of the big questions as we move forward, however the settlement shakes out, is whether at any point, even if the nfl didn't tell everything that it knew about the dangers to players, that had players back in the day known, would they have done anything differently.

>> i don't know that they would. i played in the '70s. i had a couple of concussions while i played. and it was part of the game . and i think the nfl has done a lot to make the game safer. we're trying to make it safer. and i think that's the case. but yeah, as a player, your idea was to play. and that's what a lot of us did into but allen, the question is, did the nfl do everything it should have done for those players at the time?

>> well, i think that's obviously very debatable. did the teams know that will much prior to 1994 when they formed a committee in order to look into the issue? i mean.

>> clearly the science did change, it evolved in terms -- the quep is whether the league's handling of the science facilitated that or impeded that. tony is frankly, one of the retired players who if he develops any problems as his age gets higher, you know, he will be eligible or his family will be eligible for 500, $600,000, $700,000 if he registers for this settlement. there's a lot of money going to a lot of men even if the problems had nothing to do with football , they will receive compensation. it's a deal people should take very seriously.

>> tony, as you look at the future of the game, this is an issue the president has talked about, we did some of our own polling. the question in our nbc news " wall street journal " poll, would you encourage your child to play a different sport because of concussion concerns? 40% say yes. do you as a dad, as a former coach and player, do you see danger ahead for football ?

>> well, i this i it's something we have to address, and the league is doing what they can to address it. we had a study that came out from the nfl health and safety committee that concussions were down 13% last year. so we're working on that. i think we've got to the convince the general public that we are. i have boys now. i have a son playing football at the university of oregon . i have five boyce in my home. i would not discourage them from playing the game. i think we are making it safer. we know that there are risks. but i would not discourage my boys from playing

>> cris collinsworth said look, there could be real damage to the ranks of high school football with the high number of concussions. do you share that concern?

>> well, i this i we have to do things to lessen that. and we have. i mean, if you look at when i was playing, if you had an acl injury , many times it was career-ending. now we have guys getting hurt, acl injuries and they come back and play in that same season. so we've made progress in a lot of areas. we've got to make progress in this. no one wore mouthpieces when i played. now we understand that mouthpieces can go a long way to help toward preventing concussions and young people are wearing mouthpieces now, better helmets. we have to continue to do that. but we can make it safer.

>> here's what the president said, alan, in his interview with the new yorker. he said i would not let my son play pro football . at this point, there's a little bit of caveat emt tore he went on. these guys know what they're doing. they know what they're buying into. it is no longer a secret. it's sort of the feeling, i have about smokers, you know, in other words, smokers know it can kill them and they still smoke. it's not so helpful that the president said it's no longer a secret because that suggests at one point maybe it was. to you, danger ahead for football ?

>> i don't think so. even if participation declines 10 or 20% in the youth and high school ranks, that's still tons of players. tons of enthusiasm. tons of small towns and friday night lights. if the next tom brady 's father in fact does not let him play, tom brady was a fantastic baseball player. maybe he would have turned pro if baseball. but then somebody else is going to lead the new england patriots. i think football is going to be just fine. they will slow down the game, make it a little less reckless. hopefully actually enforce the tackling rules that have been in place since the early '70s. these kinds of things can change the sport into something that is far less dangerous.

>> but tony, to me it's a culture issue, right? i mean, look, there's plenty of fan who's say let the guys play the way they play and don't try to diminish the sport in that way. but here's the example i think of as a fan. alex smith playing for the 49ers, gets a concussion. what happens? he loses his job. that's what happens. they went on to colin kaepernick who is now a superstar. smith is still doing great over at kansas city . this is a culture thing. these guys know how tough it is, but until they buy into the idea they've got to protect themselves, it gets very hard, doesn't it?

>> we have to get that across. that is one of the things the nfl has worked on, getting guys to report or getting more people looking at them and making sure that when a player does have a concussion, that it it is dealt with and treated. i can tell you in my 13 years as a head coach, i never had a player tell me, boy, i don't feel great but the doctors say i'm okayen an i can go back in there. no, they do tell you. the doctors are holding me out, i can play coach, let me in. we have to work on that part of the culture. i think we're doing that. i think the nfl is doing things to make the game safer all the way up.

>> are they not getting it in any respect in the nfl ? do you think they're still missing something that's important?

>> players want to play. there's no question about that. i do think the educational process, we are getting things across. it is getting better and players do understand that they have to look out for their future.

>> yeah.

>> real quick.

>> i think the league has a lot of influence over youth football , high school football . they make a big thing about usa football and all the efforts that they're making. perhaps there can be a rule that will ultimately develop that you can't crush a chide in the head just because he's holding a football and just because the helmet met the standard at the time of manufacture, perhaps they should make sure it still has safety properties two years later. they don't do that now.

>> alan schwartz , tony dungy . thanks so much. will peyton win it today, tony?

>> i think so. i'm pulling for him. that's it for us today. the 22nd winter olympic games kick off this thursday on nbc. we'll have coverage on the ground there. that's it for us today. if it's sunday, "meet the press."