The Pro Football Concussion Report

A Fan's Look at Head Injuries and the Concussion Crisis in Football

Mike Brown, Son of a Pioneer

Mike Brown and his dad, Paul Brown, 1986 (AP)


Paul Brown was an NFL pioneer. He was the first coach to use game film, first to hire full-time assistants, he invented the face mask and he drew up the draw play. He also gave the NFL his middle son, Mike Brown, a 1950’s Dartmouth quarterback and Harvard-educated lawyer. The younger Brown, now 77 and owner of the Cincinnati Bengals, may be better known for his contentious relationship with the Cincinnati community since getting the best of them in a 17 year-old stadium financing deal. The Bengals have also produced few winning seasons since the deal, likely the higher crime in typical rabid fan-based football perspective. However, on Tuesday July 23, Brown offered a new twist, his owner’s perspective on the concussion crisis facing the NFL.

“No one really knows what concussions mean, especially as you grow older. It’s not only not proven, it’s merely speculation that this is something that creates some form of dementia late in life. Our statistics – the ones I’ve seen anyway – don’t show that. I’m not convinced that anybody really knows what concussions bring, what they mean later in life, if anything.”

Perhaps concussions and the concussion litigation is not as big a crisis to the owners as most people assume. With the owners currently in federal judge mandated mediation talks with the former players, it’s difficult to imagine the two parties can come to some sort of agreement when at least one owner has just stated that he doesn’t even think concussions lead to longterm damage. Even when well-rehearsed top NFL PR guy and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was asked about it by Bob Schieffer (host of the CBS news program Face the Nation) before the 2013 Super Bowl, Goodell responded accordingly.

SCHIEFFER: Because for years the league would not acknowledge, really, that there was a connection. You now acknowledge that there is a connection?

GOODELL: Well Bob, again, we’re going to let the medical individuals make those points. We are going to give them the money, advance that science. In the meantime, we have to do everything we can to advance the game and make sure it’s safe.

Brown’s pioneering may be limited to his unprecedented stadium deal. In 1996, Brown orchestrated public financing that should be the envy of the other 31 NFL teams. In 2011, the Wall Street Journal called the Bengals 1996 stadium deal “unusually lopsided in favor of the team and risky for taxpayers.” In 2013, while forced to cut social programs and county administrative expenses, the residents of Hamilton County continue to shoulder the burden of stadium upkeep and security while collecting no rent from the Bengals and little revenue from the stadium.

According to a 2009 New York Times article:

“The team had to pay rent only through 2009 on its 26-year lease, and has to cover the cost of running the stadium only for game days. Starting in 2017, the county will reimburse the team for these costs, too. The county will pay $8.5 million this year (2010) to keep the stadium going.

The Bengals keep revenue from naming rights, advertising, tickets, suites and most parking. If the county wants to recoup money by taxing tickets, concessions or parking, it needs the team’s approval.”

The original taxpayer approved sales tax increase was supposed to also provide revenues for public schools, but a decline in sales tax revenues have resulted in the schools not collecting on their part of the bargain.

The Wall Street Journal piece quoted former Cincinnati mayor Tom Luken:

“Anybody with half a brain can figure that this is a bad deal. As it turned out, it was even worse than they painted it.”

But on the other side of the deal, Bengals Vice-President Troy Blackburn says that the residents were “an informed and engaged electorate.”

The local politician Bob Bedinghaus, who championed the original deal in 1996, was voted out of office within months of the new stadium opening in 2000 and has worked for the Bengals and at the stadium ever since.

Time will tell if the former players now suing the league over concussions fare any better than the residents of Hamilton County did when negotiating with the NFL legend’s son, Mike Brown.

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