Protection over Profits

Year after year, the National Football League continues to be one of the most viewed sports in America. Football brings fans from far and wide together to watch their team score touchdowns, win games, and other exciting plays that can sometimes involve really big tackles. This age of football where hitting your opponent as hard as possible has led to a very pressing issue within the league, head protection. As of lately we are seeing more and more players take on suspensions for helmet-to-helmet collisions. For example, Vontaze Burfict was suspended for the remainder of the season after steamrolling over Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle in a gruesome collision, which is displayed in the photo above. Other notable players like Wayne Chrebet have spoken out about head pains which he believes may have ended his career.

Jimmy Stamp, who wrote The Evolution of the Football Helmet explained in his article that the earliest helmets “looked more like a padded aviator cap than the high-tech crash-tested helmet”. Head health and consciousness was never a concern during the early stages of the game, but within the past five years the NFL and NFLPA has taken many more precautions on the topic of brain and face protection. The pursuit for minimizing brain damage is the most crucial topic in football today. Here, we can examine the progression of NFL helmets from the 1920’s into football today. 

By the early 1900s, the use of “soft leather skull caps” were starting to be worn by few players, and by the 1920’s harder leather helmet was introduced to the NFL to slightly increase the level of protecting, yet “helmets were [still] not mandatory,” Stamp explained. The game didn’t fully make a change until 1943 when “John T. Riddell introduced the first plastic helmet” into the NFL, but Stamp explains in his article how this was unfortunately short lived. As plastic became scarcer during World War II, so did the much more durable helmet that would hopefully keep NFL players safer. Many questions rose from the use of plastic after World War II, debating what plastic to use and the different mix of plastics being unsafe which lead to the NFL banning plastic helmets.

“Black eyes, blood noses, and swollen lips”

Moving into the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, minimal innovation had been made to make the NFL helmet safe for the players. Stamp mentions how open-faced helmets lead to “black eyes, bloody noses, and swollen lips” game after game. The first major improvement of the helmet came in 1955 when a face bar was added to the plastic helmets that had also been fixed to fit NFL standards. The face bar was invented and introduced by “Paul Brown, the first coach of Cleveland’s professional football team” which he originally invented because his quarterback Otto Graham took a very hard hit “right in the kisser,” said Stamp. Brown and the equipment manager quickly assembled the first face bar during the game and immediately sent Graham back on the field to finish the game. After the win, a few minor adjustments were made to Brown’s idea of the face bar and other NFL began to follow suit. Stamp mentions in his article that coach Paul Brown patented the design “known as BT-5, and it went into production by Riddell” who produced the majority of the NFL’s helmets until the 2013-14 season.  

The NFL and its contractors struggled to innovate helmet technology over the next decade. The NFL released an article called the History of the NFL Football Helmet and explains that it wasn’t until the 1970’s when “energy absorbing helmets” were invented by Riddell, “add[ing] air bladders inside helmets to soften impact” on every hit. Further technology enhancements were introduced in 1984 when the first molded polycarbonate helmets were founded. Polycarbonate is a strong, tough material that would bring much more protection to the players. Throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s the only advancement made to helmet technology was the addition of polycarbonate face grill to protect the face along with the head. Innovation had come to a halt, which lead to the increased curiosity on the truth about the safety of NFL helmets. 

Who is looking out for the players?

In 2000, Riddell was designing a helmet strictly to reduce player’s concussion risk which would be a revolutionary product in football. With all the hype, the new helmet PBS journalist Sabrina Shankman explained that Riddell’s new helmet “would become the most widely used helmet in the NFL and earn millions in sales to players in college, high school and youth leagues.” But during the development of the new technology, a biomechanics firm that was hired by the NFL and Riddell to test helmets and study head injuries “sent the company a report showing that no football helmet, no matter how revolutionary, couldn’t prevent concussions,” Shankman confirmed. Her article dives deeper into the logistics of industry safety protection and stated even helmets that passed those standards still leaves players “with a 95 percent likelihood of receiving a concussion from a strong enough blow” to the head.

Shankman elaborates on how the report did not stop Riddell from marketing their helmet as the most advance type yet to prevent concussion by stating that “players who wore it were 31 percent less likely to suffer a concussion” which they knew was an extremely exaggerated statistic.” Riddell was also sued in 2013 by high school football coaches for the injuries a teenager in Colorado suffered leading to a payout of $11.5 million. The high school teenager used the modeled helmet above, which was a 2002 prototype. If football players can’t trust the companies making the helmets, who can they trust with their safety?

Since the termination of the NFL’s original deal with Riddell, they have moved on seeking out the highest quality protection for the players. USA Today released an article on the NFL prohibiting players from using certain helmets for the first time, and as of 2018, “the league has sought to have players stop using 10 helmet varieties” and came out with a list of helmets that meet the NFL’s standards on helmet protection and safety. The article lists 10 helmets that will be banned from practice and gameplay including “the Rawlings’ Impulse and Impulse+, Quantum and Tachyon; SG Varsity and SG 2.0; Schutt Vengeance Z10 (model 204100), Air XP (model 789002) and Air XP Pro (model 789102); and Riddell VSR-4 (model R41133).” While this is the current list of banned helmet types, it is important that the NFLPA and the NFL continue to collaborate on this issue and put the players’ health first. The NFL recorded a 16% increase in concussions from 2016 to 2017 and a 24% decrease from 2017 to 2018

Moving Forward

Regardless of the recent decrease in concussions, they should be working towards a constant decrease in injuries for their players that put their bodies on line every week in practice and on gameday while the team owners sit in their boxes reaping the benefits of their hardwork. In today’s league where the players are growing faster, stronger, and more athletic than ever, it is important that the NFL organization does everything they can to limit injury risk and keep the players safe. 

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Why does the US Women’s National Soccer Team earn less than the men?

The FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2019 was dominated yet again by the United States Women. They are consistently one of the best professional women’s teams in the world. This year marked their fourth World Cup win. They have more glory of success than any other team, in World Cup wins and the Olympics. Meanwhile, the United States Men’s National Soccer Team

The United States Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) has officially represented the United States in professional soccer since 1991. The players for this team, as well as the program, are offered significantly less money compared to the amount offered to the Men’s National Team. After the women’s fourth World Cup win this year, a social uproar began over the gender disparity of earnings in United States Soccer. Many of the star female players filed a federal complaint for unequal compensation. The background of the monetary distribution by the United States Soccer Federation further explains the women’s complaint between wages of the United States Men’s and Women’s National Teams.  

Over time for athletics there have been significant steps in promoting further equality. In 1972, President Richard Nixon signed the Education Amendments which included Title IX. The Title IX legislation is one of the reasons why the United States Soccer Federation was influenced to make a Women’s League from the increased popularity and placers in the sport. This amendment brought more females up to the professional soccer stage by providing equal resources for women to play soccer in college. Title IX may not govern discrimination of sex for professional soccer, but it created a precedent of men and women’s programs having the same amount of resources. This precedent has led to the US Women’s National Team to speak out about the unequal distribution of money by the USSF to the men’s and women’s programs.

The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) officially governs both the US Women’s National Team and the US Men’s National Team. According to their official website, the USSF was founded in 1913. It was one of the first programs to be affiliated and recognized with FIFA, the highest governing body of international soccer. The USSF governance gives them the power to invest and allocate money to both teams. 

The USSF determines how each team’s pay is defined, therefore is a major factor to how the wage disparity exists. The USSF created different compensation structures for the men’s and the women’s collective bargaining agreements – the contracts between the players and the federation to regulate payment, conditions, benefits, etc. The Men’s National Team’s collective bargaining agreement overall contains a larger amount of money to distribute from the USSF than the contract for the women’s program. The amount of money the USSF allocates to each program affects the quality of the programs including new equipment, travel spending, wages, venues, media, etc. 

The US Women’s National Team collectively bargained with the US Soccer Federation to receive a pay structure “that guarantees them salaries,” Boehm reported in an article for Reason, with additional “severance pay, medical benefits and some performance based bonuses”. The purpose of the women creating a different style in distribution of money from the USSF was to have security in their occupation. Their agreed upon base salary is $72,000 per year with additional bonuses for each win of $1,350. In 2017, both parties ratified their current agreement containing improvements from their previous one which will last through the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

In contrast, the US Men’s National Team receives a “pay for play” style of earnings under their signed agreements. This structure is performance based. They collectively bargained differently than the women with the US Soccer Federation in which they do not have a predetermined salary or benefits. The break-down of the pay for play structure is as follows: each game played (20 friendly games) the men receive $5,000 win or lose. On top of the $5,000, every game they win they receive an additional $3,166 as a win bonus. If they lose all 20 games they will still receive $100,000 for playing. This is $28,000 more than the women’s base salary, even for losing.

The United States Soccer Federation currently defends its position on the difference in payment that the two programs are inherently different. The difference in pay has more of the contracts is not merited by the basis of sex. Instead, the US Soccer Federation looks at the revenue difference the Men’s National Team brings in compared to the women. The men generate more attention to from a longer standing program which has had more time for investment to pour into. The Men’s National Team has more fans and venues for games than women creating more revenue for the Federation. The women have a newer program, therefore are still gaining recognition for investment.

FIFA, the governing body over global tournaments, supports 211 affiliated soccer programs internationally. In the 2018 Men’s World Cup, FIFA gave $400 million in prize money; however, in 2019 the Women’s World Cup they gave only $30 total in prize money. The US Women’s National Team received a mere $4 million of that for gold. A response to the disparity in allocation of money largely deals with women being added to FIFA decades after the men. Since the Women’s World Cup sporting event is not even 30 years old, the revenue and viewer attraction from it generates less money compared to the Men’s World Cup. Therefore, there is less money to give to winners from their revenue. FIFA’s response is similar to the USSF reasonings stated above behind investing less money to the US Women’s National Team.

According to Business Insider, the USSF gave each player of the Women’s National Team $75,000 for winning the 2015 World Cup. In the article, Gaines declared if the men won a World Cup the USSF “would give more than four times larger [than the women’s] at nearly $400,000.”

Ultimately, the United States Soccer Federation argued against the women’s federal complaint that one cannot compare the two programs directly. They claim there is not a wage gap because they are completely different programs and pay structures to analyze together. 

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Greyhound Racing: Broken Down in Shades of Grey

Fans pile into the arena and fight for the best seats in the house, eager for another Saturday at the tracks. Tens and twenties wave in the air as spectators push to the front of the lines to place their bets. The smell of popcorn, hotdogs, and beer wafts through the stadium as the announcer’s voice booms through the speakers. Competitors warm up behind the scenes as they prepare for the big race, while their coaches’ nerves run sky high. Months of training have come down to this exact moment. Adrenaline is running high and the arena is alive with energy. The bell sounds and they’re off!

Six competitors sprinting for victory, fame, money, and maybe an extra treat. 

To clarify: six greyhounds.

The excitement of the race allows some spectators to forget and ignore what they passed on their way into the arena. Signs reading “racing to death!”, “you bet, they die!” and “dogs are killed for your night out!”

This industry is on the decline due to the work of anti-racing advocates, while others push these images out of their minds and tirelessly fight to keep racing alive.

What is a greyhound?

A greyhound is a type of dog that has grown increasingly popular as pets in American homes. They have a very loyal, loving, gentle, and quiet disposition, and live for about ten to thirteen years. Originally, they were bred to be hunters and chasers of foxes, deer, and hare. Known as the Ferraris of the dog world, greyhounds have made quite a name for themselves through racing. With lean bodies and long, strong legs, greyhounds can reach speeds up to 45 mph, and they can reach 30 mph in only three strides. To put this into perspective, the fastest speed for a racehorse is 44 miles per hour. Due to the narrow, aerodynamic skull and the shock-absorbing pads of their feet, greyhounds were practically built to run.

The muscles of this lean greyhound ripple through its thin coat.
Image Credit: Tom Quinn

When and how did the sport begin?

Greyhound racing is a tradition that has been celebrated for centuries on both a national and global scale. The sport originates from “coursing” which was a competition involving the pursuit of a hare by two greyhounds. The dogs were judged on performance and success in catching the hare. Scenes of coursing have been found in Egyptian tombs that date back to before 2500 BC, and the dogs drawn look very much like the modern day greyhound

In Medieval England, commoners were forbidden to own greyhounds, thus making the dog a symbol of high status and wealth. According to the greyhound Racing Association of America, the dogs’ skill in sighting and catching a game animal became a competitive sport during the 16th century, with two dogs running against each other. Due to the high status of the dog owners, they placed significant bets on the race. Sometimes spectators also gathered and placed their own bets.

This tradition was brought to the United States after the Civil War as farmlands grew throughout the Midwest and into the West. Plants on these farms suffered thanks to a large jackrabbit population, thus greyhounds were imported from England to protect the crops. A popular Sunday afternoon activity quickly became coursing meets: two competing dogs chasing a live rabbit.

Owen Patrick Smith, the director of the Chamber of Commerce in Hot Springs, South Dakota, was appointed to organize a coursing meeting in 1905. Although the meeting was successful, the internal guilt concerning the cruelty of the sport loomed. The dogs attacking the innocent hare was unsettling, so he brainstormed ways to fix the inhumane aspects of the sport. His idea — greyhounds chasing an artificial hare. The first major public demonstration of greyhound racing was held in Emeryville, California, however businessmen were still not sold on the idea.

The sport needed to appeal to more audiences and draw in a larger crowd. People who did not enjoy the sport had a variety of reasons for their distaste: they don’t like dogs, they don’t like races, or they find it boring. Well, what is the one thing in the world that everyone loves? 

Money. Thus, betting commenced. 

With the opportunity for financial gain, investors bought into the idea and greyhound racing took off as it spread across the country from Oklahoma to Illinois to Florida.

Men from history celebrating their greyhound’s victory.
Image Credit: Creative Commons

What are the rules of greyhound racing?

The rules of the race are simple and straightforward.

Run fast and win. 

Most greyhound tracks in America are exactly one-fourth of a mile, 440 yards, once around from the starting line back to the same line. However, the majority of races in the United States are a 5/16-mile run, which is exactly 550 yards

The standard 5/16-mile race begins at the top of the front straightaway (also known as the “frontstretch”). The starting box that holds the racing dogs (the trap) is at the top of a shorter straight runway that leads into the main stretch. 

As the bell sounds, the mechanical hare speeds past the trap followed by the release of the dogs, eager to pursue their prey. 

One lap around the track makes up the entirety of the race. With these dogs moving as fast as a professional race horse, the average greyhound finishes in about 30 seconds

The race technically ends once the dogs cross the finish line, still in pursuit of the mechanical hare. This is really just an arbitrary point at which “we”, as human beings, determine the winner; the greyhounds continue to round the corner in pursuit of the hare until the lure brings the hare, and consequently the dogs, to a halt.

The lure is essentially a giant toy train circling your living room — except it reaches speeds of 60 miles per hour. It is a large, mobile electric motor that operates under a guardrail as it circles the course. Its “arm” hangs out over the track with a stuffed hare dangling for the dogs to chase. The speed of the lure is ultimately controlled by an operator perched at the top of the stadium with a birds-eye view of the entire racetrack.

How do the greyhounds train?

Training for these greyhounds is not a nice walk around the park. They are treated like professional athletes with strict diets and workout plans to adhere to. Young dogs who have yet to start racing gain experience running with two or three other dogs. Sprint fields are commonly utilized by trainers to build speed and strength. They are deep sand paths about 50 yards wide and 200 yards long.

Another typical exercise includes attaching leashes to trucks and cars as they drive around a set course. According to Tom Quinn, active greyhound racer and owner, this “moving treadmill” exercise keeps the dogs moving at a brisk trot to build endurance. Quinn explains that most trainers try to ensure that no active dog goes any 3-day period without some form of workout (truckwalking, sprinting, or short races).

Quinn gave an inside look at a day in the life of his star dog: Run Happy. Run Happy recently made it to the greyhound Derby at Shelbourne Park in Dublin, Ireland. To put this into perspective, Quinn compared this Derby in Ireland to be equivalent to the Kentucky Derby in the United States. Everyone knows what it is, and will pay large amounts of money to watch the race. His dogs are top notch competitors and victors, thanks to their training.

“The dog is woken up at around 7:30 in the morning. He is brought outside to use the bathroom and is fed. He is then put on walkers to get his legs moving and start exercising,” Quinn said. “He has a break and then is brought out for his afternoon exercise session. It is a full 24 hour regimen for these dogs, and they are working hard 24/7.”

Three greyhounds race in pursuit of the mechanical hare.
Image Credit: Creative Commons

So… why is the industry declining?

Greyhound racing remains a controversial subject among race fans, breeders, rescue groups, dog owners, track owners, and animal rights activists. Despite centuries of racing these dogs both within the United States and world-wide, the industry is beginning to decline. As animal activists voice their concerns for the well-being of the dogs, the pro-racers are struggling to keep this racing tradition alive. 

Pro-racers are facing a steep, uphill battle with minimal chance of making it victoriously to the top. “Some things are black and white, but many things are shades of gray,” said Claudia Presto, founder of anti-racing organization Greyhound Gang. “Or in this case, shades of grey.”

Why ban the sport?

Those who denounce the greyhound racing industry started as a smaller group of activists that has been rapidly growing as animal rights movements expand. Similar to professional athletes, a greyhound’s career can be over in a split second due to injury. On the track, greyhounds routinely experience terrible injuries including broken legs, cardiac arrest, spinal cord paralysis, and broken necks. 

According to GREY2K, a non-profit organization working to end greyhound racing, more than 15,000 greyhound injuries were recorded between January 2008 and April 2018. The true number of injuries is believed to be much higher by greyhound activists due to the fact that Florida was not required to report greyhound injuries to the public until recently in 2017. In Florida alone, records demonstrate that on average, a racing greyhound dies every three days; anti-racers believe this to be a very high mortality rate for the dogs. 

Greyhounds are a very lean breed with minimal body fat and a thin coat. According to activists, despite these physical factors, greyhounds are forced to race in very severe weather conditions, both hot and cold. The dogs can be found sprinting around a track in freezing temperatures in the winter and in stifling heat upwards of 100 degrees in the summer.

While professional athletes travel to away games on first-class airplanes and private buses, the professionally racing dogs do not receive quite the same luxuries. A truck transporting the dogs can be stuffed with up to 60 greyhounds that are packed with two or three dogs per crate. Some of these trucks do not have air conditioning, but rather line the floors with ice to “cool” the dogs. In the spring and summer, deadly temperatures can be reached in these haulers. 

Activists believe that even when these dogs are not actively racing, they are at risk for maltreatment and abuse. Greyhounds in this industry spend most of their lives stacked in warehouse-style kennels for upwards of 20 hours a day, or are stored outdoors in dirt pens with minimal shelter. Basic veterinary care, human affection, or adequate sustenance can be scarce for these creatures, meanwhile fleas, sicks, and internal parasites are plentiful.

Image Credit: Creative Commons

Why keep the sport alive?

Those involved in the sport passionately argue to maintain it. While some pro-racers are able to recognize the concerns of those with opposing viewpoints, others see solely the good in the sport. 

Due to the canines’ athletic and strong physique, it is argued that the sport allows them to do what they were born (or bred) to do: run. These dogs are built to hunt to chase and, according to history, were doing exactly this for farmers to control their jackrabbit populations. The dogs’ slim build allows them to reach speeds of 40 miles per hour; this is quick enough to pursue fast creatures including foxes and deer

With an owner treating their greyhound as a companion and competitive athlete, it is argued that the dogs are living their ideal life: running while being cared for. 

Pro-racers believe that nobody is forcing a greyhound to run. “Greyhounds are as opinionated and different from each other as we are,” said a member of the Greyhound Racing Association of America. “If there was a way to make them run like we want them to, we would have figured it out long ago!” It is believed that a greyhound chases the hare out of pure joy of the run and a biological need to sprint. 

They are not horses with riders on their backs instructing them and they are not chasing after the mechanical hare to eat because they are starving. 

So, are they truly running for the love of it?

Tom Quinn, passionate owner and racer, defends this wholeheartedly. He comes from a family of greyhound racers and knows nothing but love for the sport. “My dad and mom always had greyhounds when I was a little baby,” Quinn said. “I grew up around greyhounds and am the third generation of racers in my family.” He currently has one actively racing greyhound, Run Happy, and two pups who will start training soon.

“If anybody knows what a greyhound does, they know that they are like a racehorse. That’s why I named my dog Run Happy; because greyhounds love to run. That’s what they are bred to do,” Quinn said. “They are happiest when they’re running and competing. They are competitors, just like a racehorse. They are athletes. They are looked after so well. People do not understand how these dogs are treated and how well looked after they are.”

Looking at the sport through an economic lens stirs more conversation of the potential benefits of the sport. The greyhound racing industry provides a multitude of individuals with their livelihood as a result of working at the race track. Employment opportunities are available through the care for the dogs, such as grooming and veterinary services. Additionally, running the race tracks provides jobs including working the concession stands, parking lots, ticket taking, sanitation management, and betting stations.

Run Happy comes in first place at the Friends of Limerick Race in Limerick, Ireland.
Video Credit: Tom Quinn and Buckley Greyhound Training

What is the current status on racing?

Currently, in forty-one US states, commercial dog racing is illegal. Florida’s ban on dog racing will go into effect on January 1, 2021. With Florida being a central racing state since the beginning of the sport in the US, this ban came as a shock to many supporters. In four states, all dog tracks have been closed and ceased live racing, but a prohibitory statute has yet to be enacted. These states are Oregon, Connecticut, Kansas, and Wisconsin. Dog racing remains legal and operational in only five states: West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, and Texas.

GREY2K, as mentioned briefly above, is a non-profit organization that works to pass stronger greyhound protection laws and end the cruelty of dog racing on both national and international levels. Since its formation in 2001, the dog racing industry has been diminished by nearly two-thirds

Racing attendance is diminishing across the United States as laws are being passed to phase out and end the sport completely. Greater proportions of the public are choosing to not participate in this enterprise, making it even more difficult for races to stay operating. Despite centuries of racing, the industry’s days seem to be numbered as more states set bans into action.

Graphic showing US state laws concerning greyhound racing. Racing is illegal in the states in plain white.

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