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Jim Irsay compares risk of playing football to taking aspirin

Colts owner Jim Irsay compared the risk of playing football to the risk of taking an aspirin while talking with the Sports Business Journal about how football will always involve risk.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The ongoing saga of the concussion issue in football gained some steam last week, as NFL Senior VP for Health and Safety Policy Jeff Miller said that there is a connection between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).  It marked the first time that the league publicly admitted that such a link exists, but the league's owners have since tried to backtrack on that claim.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Texans owner Bob McNair both suggestedthe idea that we don't have enough information to base that type of claim on, and Colts owner Jim Irsay has taken that same stance.

"I believe this: that the game has always been a risk, you know, and the way certain people are," Irsay told the Sports Business Journal.  "Look at it.  You take an aspirin, I take an aspirin, it might give you extreme side effects of illness and your body ... may reject it, where I would be fine.  So there is so much we don't know."

Irsay compared football to Olympic bobsledding as another example of a sport that involves risk.  "It is a tough sport," he said.  "It is a contact sport.  Again, whether it is bobsledding, rugby, what have you now: Any of those sports it takes a commitment [that] ‘I am all in here.'"

Furthermore, Irsay rejects the idea that the NFL was aware of a possible link between football and CTE decades ago yet didn't say anything, as Irsay says that he never heard that despite being around the league.

"One thing I have always felt strongly about, that [is] to say, ‘Oh, someone knew something and they didn't tell way back in the '60s or '70s,' that's just not true," Irsay said.  "I was there.  I know that's a lie.  You know no one knew anything.  The only thing we know and always knew is when you strap on that helmet and go out on the field, boy you know you are taking a risk, but the reward is something.  It's worth it."

Irsay's point is simply this: that football has always included taking a risk, but it's one that players have found to be worth it.  He used the example of bobsledding (plus other sports, like rugby) to illustrate that football isn't the only sport that presents such a risk, either, and even suggested that part of the focus on concussions now is due to the league's popularity and driving profits.  It does seem strange, though, to compare the risk of playing football to the risk of taking an aspirin, because while both of those things involve some sort of risk, they aren't the same situation whatsoever and are really hard to compare.

To a certain extent, Irsay makes a very valid point: playing football is never going to come without a risk involved.  Despite the NFL's best efforts (which we haven't really seen, as it's hard to really confront and deal with a problem while still denying that the problem exists), football will always include risk.  The league can make it safer than it is today, but it won't erase the risk entirely.  "Obviously we are not going to go to a situation where we put players in almost balloon-like equipment, where it becomes a pillow fight, so to speak," Irsay said.  "We are trying to look at everything about the safety of the game without changing the game."

With that said, however, the concussion problem is still one that the NFL must confront.  As recently as today, Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah announced his retirement at the age of 30 due to concussions and wanting to protect his health, something that we have seen as a growing trend.  The NFL can't just brush that underneath the rug and pretend like everything is fine, or wave off the concerns by simply stating that football will always have a risk.  While the latter might be true, that's not a valid excuse to continue to deny that a link between football and CTE exists, nor is it a valid excuse to avoid doing everything possible to make the game safer for players.  To compare the risk of playing football to the risk of taking an aspirin belittles the seriousness of the issue and the struggles of real men dealing with CTE and the realities of it.  The good points that Irsay made - such as football always involving some sort of risk - are overshadowed by stupid comments like the one comparing football to aspirin.

Ultimately, Jim Irsay is honest in the regard that there is a risk involved in playing football and isn't denying that the risk exists (like some of the other owners) as much as he's downplaying it.  Some may view that as a step in the right direction, but until the NFL and its owners begins to get serious about the issue, it's unlikely that any meaningful progress is going to come about.