With the news that Deondre Francois is returning to Florida State University for his last year, my immediate thoughts regarded how much more damage this young quarterback can endure. Francois not only missed an entire season to injury, a review of the highlight reel will show him being pummeled on numerous occasions, including sustaining concussions. Francois is likely returning to play hoping to increase his value to the NFL. If he is ultimately injured again then his chances of being drafted will diminish. He will leave FSU with a degree, some chronic pain, and a high chance of suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
CTE is the degenerative disease believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head. The NFL has already paid a half-billion dollars to former players experiencing brain-related illness, yet most athletes will accept the risk of trauma for a chance at glory and fame. Former All-American and NFL player Tim Green recently announced that he has ALS attributable to the wear and tear of playing football. He discussed injuries and football for years before his own condition deteriorated. Green will be dead soon but he says he has no regrets. And there is the conundrum. Given the choice, both fans and athletes will support football, regardless of the rising cases of brain injuries and shortening of life.
Our culture has stagnated to the point that FSU could close the College of Education and there would not be near the outcry as if they closed the football program. At the minimum, we should increase protection and support for our college players. A full ride football scholarship in exchange for chronic injuries and fewer years alive is no longer a fair trade. FSU has the means to offer compensation at least comparable to what the military offers and it could offer long-term health, life, and disability insurance to its players.
Most colleges typically offer a full-ride scholarship and some incidental expenses for playing football and earning a degree. Four years of service in the military can get you 36 months of living stipend plus full tuition. This includes full medical coverage and life insurance. The lack of additional benefits for college football players is especially onerous given that there are numerous individuals in universities like FSU that make excellent salaries and benefits based on fielding a football team. As reported earlier in Tallahassee Reports, FSU was the highest-grossing college sports programs in Florida in 2016 with total athletics revenue of $144.7 million.
If we assume 100 FSU football athletes at a scholarship cost of $100,000 each to complete a four-year degree, that would be a total cost of $10 million to FSU, with combined revenue of $580 million during the same time frame. This level of audacious economic inequality in our country is the stubborn issue we haven’t had the courage to address. If a university, a place of education, supports such an imbalance, we are in trouble.
College football will be tested as more cases of traumatic brain injuries come forward. The NCAA has already settled class-action concussion lawsuits and there will surely be more to come. Universities that get hyper proactive on safety and offering more financial security of its players will face less long-term liability, and maybe better recruitment.
If we like our college football and we want to see it continue, we should ensure these players take more benefits away with them when they leave. Most of them will not be going to the NFL. Given the level of revenue FSU makes in relation to the costs, and our current knowledge on the long-term injuries being sustained, players are treated more like indentured servants. We can do better.
Daniel Parker is an author, educator, and public servant. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org