In an unexpected turn of events, it appears the NFL is closer to rectifying two of the larger and negative story lines surrounding the league.
First, NFL's senior vice president for health and safety Jeff Miller acknowledged to the U.S. House of Representatives that there is a link between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease that results from repetitive hits to the head.
The NFL has actively tried to bury the connection for years, including statements from the league just a month ago at the Super Bowl when commissioner Roger Goodell flippantly noted the "risk in sitting on your couch" when asked about the dangers in youth football.
The health and safety risks associated with football are the largest hurdle for the longevity of the sport. Youth football has experienced the largest decline in participation since Pop Warner, the largest youth football organization, began tracking data and parents cite concerns over head injuries as the #1 issue.
Little is understood about parental concerns on couch-sitting.
The NFL wants the next step in the discussion to be about better understanding the relationship between football and CTE, and how to possibly diagnose the disease in living persons. Currently, CTE can only be diagnosed after death.
Both the NFL and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) have rejected the usage of helmet censors to detect contact because the NFL has concerns with the accuracy of the data and because the players fear "how the NFL could use or manipulate sensor data to limit its liability in current or future concussion lawsuits."
The NFL has a history of manipulating data to fit their narrative, so the concern of the players is valid.
The Wall Street Journal has also reported the NFLPA and the NFL are closer to reducing Goodell's involvement in player discipline and in the appeals process. The NFL Owners meeting will take place next week and player discipline will likely be a topic of conversation.
Currently, Goodell is able to both issue discipline and then hear the appeal. This process doesn't work and has led multiple cases to become a part of the national conversation, including BountyGate, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, and DeflateGate. Goodell's continuously been overturned when a neutral arbitrator hears the case as he is unfit to hear the appeal of the discipline that he originally issued.
The decision for Goodell to give up his power is a major bargaining chip for the owners and likely won't come without a major concession from the players. NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said that he wouldn't extend the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which currently grants Goodell the right to hear the appeals and greatly favors the owners with compensation.
The NFL's handling of Brady will be the focus of the negotiations because the league clearly overstepped its boundaries in so many ways throughout the DeflateGate farce. Smith notes that any proposal with the NFL will have to include a resolution for Brady, which puts an increased pressure on the result of Brady's hearing in the U.S. Court of Appeals.
If the courts rule in favor of Brady, then the NFLPA will have a huge advantage in coming to terms. If not, then the NFL will hold most of the cards in the deck. Let's hope the NFLPA won't concede any ground on the head injury front in order to resolve the problems with player discipline.