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How Does The Concept Of Assumption Of Risk Apply In The NFL?

Assumption of Risk Defined

Football fans do not usually have to think about legal issues when gearing up for a new season. However, the recent controversy over head trauma and concussions gripping the NFL has pushed concepts like assumption of risk into the spotlight. Assumption of risk is defined as “a term or condition in a contract of employment, either expressed or implied from the circumstances of the employment, by which the employ agrees that dangers of injury ordinarily or obviously incident to the discharge of his duty in the particular employment shall be at his own risk.”

How Does The Concept Of Assumption Of Risk Apply In The NFL?

A Collision Sport

One does not have to have played football to know it is a violent game. Football players and analysts often point out that it is not a contact sport, it is a collision sport that features tackles, hits, and falls as routine parts of every game. Fans expect to see large athletes crashing into each other on every play. Although violence is not exactly the point of football as it is in sports like boxing and MMA, violence is definitely a means to an end. The truth is many players are attracted to football because it allows violence to be perpetrated and even rewarded in a socially acceptable venue. Today’s society may find this an unpalatable truth, but even a cursory review of history shows that many men seek ways to satisfy the aggressive parts of their nature. Those who choose to play football gladly assume the risk of injury and learn early on that minor and severe injuries are part of playing the game.

Litigating Football

In what could prove to be a game changer, former NFL players filed a lawsuit in June 2011 against the league, arguing it had downplayed and perhaps even withheld information about concussions and their relationship to long-term neurological problems. The NFL’s lawyers argued that “…players assumed the risk of head injuries, among other types of injuries, by playing in the NFL,” according to a report by Sports Illustrated. The NFL also argued that concussion information has been available to the public since the founding of the league. The two sides decided to settle in August 2013. Although the NFL did not admit to wrongdoing, it will pay out several hundred million dollars to compensate injured players, educate players, and fund research.

The Future of the Sport

It is too early to tell what the long-term consequences of this issue will be on football in general and on the NFL in particular. The league has already instituted rule changes in an attempt to make the game less dangerous. For example, when a referee judges that a player used his helmet to hit another player, even unintentionally, a penalty will be called. This change also applies to offensive players such as running backs who sometimes use their helmets against other players. In these examples, players on both sides have knowingly assumed the risk that their chosen sport is violent and can cause injuries. This raises a number of questions because the violence is a big attraction for players and fans alike. Playing football, at the pee wee level all the way up to the NFL, is voluntary, so players have assumed the risk that they could suffer serious injury. Some parents wonder if football is too dangerous for children, who may not fully understand their risk of injury.


William Cartridge is a freelance writer based in Arlington, WA who focuses on various complex legal topics. When contemplating assistance for legal needs, William understands that it is imperative to select a firm with a pedigree of success, which is why he recommends Shrader Law.

Image credit goes to jmangoblue.

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