December 16, 2017

“Bell Rung” a Powerful Documentary: Concussions & Life When the Game’s Over

Sportswriter Helen Bohanna with Karon Cook

The historic Plaza Theatre in Atlanta which opened in 1939, the year Gone with the Wind premiered, was the perfect venue for Dorsey Levens’ epic film Bell Rung.  Levens played his college ball at Notre Dame and Georgia Tech and spent 10 Seasons in the NFL (named All-Pro in ’97).  The title Bell Rung comes from a term used in football circles to describe the violent, jarring of the brain.

Dorsey and I had the chance to chat prior to the screening, I told him how I’d been traveling the country over the past several months and talking about kids playing football, safety concerns of parents, concussions and the Former NFL Players Brain Injury Lawsuit.  Over 50% didn’t know that much about the case; 90% of the people I spoke with (men and women) felt the legal action was more about the MONEY rather than player safety (more on that later).

I felt the film was honest, the way it was shot…the feel of it…the tone: all true. The former NFL players that appeared in the film, simply related what happened to them, how they were treated and what they are living with now.

I reached out to former Ravens All-Pro Running Back, Jamal Lewis who was in the Documentary. I received this tweet on August 14

“@Jamal31Lewis  It was a pleasure doing this interview because I felt that it would reach our youth, and make them aware of concussions and it’s symptoms”.

When I think of all of the years I’ve watched my Steelers, how many hours of joy and excitement that these guys have brought me…what is that WORTH?   Every week we watch our teams on the field, witness the explosive and destructive hits that they endure.  Now with this film, we are getting a glimpse of what it’s really like after the applause stops and all that’s left is pain.  As a young girl I recall seeing my Dad knocked down, wondering if he would get up…he played QB for the U.S. Marines (back in the day) and Marines don’t just go on the field to play football; they want to knock the hell out of each other.

Bell Rung also gave us another point of view—the female side. Monique Hobbs described in detail how she felt when her husband (former Philadelphia Eagles cornerback, Ellis Hobbs) had to be carried off the field with a career ending, partially paralyzing neck injury.  You could see the hurt in her eyes.  As a woman, I could sense that she felt helpless to change what had been put in front of her.

After the film ended, there was an Open Panel discussion. On the Panel:

Mike Cheever ~ Jacksonville Jaguars

Wayne Gandy ~ Rams, Steelers, Saints & Falcons

Ryan Stewart ~ Detroit Lions

LaMar Campbell ~ Detroit Lions

The Panel took random questions from the audience (of over 200 people).  One of the first:

Q. Why can’t they make helmets safer? 

LaMar Campbell’s answer:  “….they have agreements and contracts with certain companies, so while all of these new companies may come up with great ideas to help prevent concussions, there’s a lot of red tape they have to go through to get those implemented.  Even in High School they’re having problems implementing them in certain counties for kids as well…hopefully the light will come on, we’re looking at a lot of lawsuits now with high school players….so I guess we all hope that it will filter from the NFL (a billion dollar business) down to the younger level.  I just think most of those Companies now are just trying to break in and help prevent concussions any way they can.”

I had the opportunity to ask the same question to Dr. Steven D. Novicky: “We believe we have at Shockstrip.  Our external helmet device has been both independently lab and field tested and shown to reduce the probability of a concussion up to 34%, amongst other positive results.  Our State of the Art material and design was the key to our success.”

About the MONEY—in the film Moneyball, a 2011 movie about the Oakland A’s baseball team, Peter Brand and Billy Beane are discussing why he (Billy) is making a certain decision—Peter says: “You’re not doing it for the money.”  Billy: “I’m not?”  Peter: “No, you’re doing it for what the money says.  And it says what it says to any player that makes big money, that they’re worth it.”

I’m asking you, dear reader: These men, the subject of this heroic film—they are brothers, sons, fathers, husbands and our friends.  Are THEY WORTH being evaluated and taken care of, being monitored, receiving support and having a secure future for themselves and their families?  Are they?

Dorsey is heading to NYC in September to screen this extraordinary documentary in the Big Apple.  I’m certain we’ll be hearing more about this, as I’m “on the case.”


Block for somebody today.  If you can make someone else’s life a little easier…do it!


NFL Business Overview

In a study of the NFL that Jake Fisher completed while enrolled in an economics class at Harvard University, the author provides a business model of this popular and prosperous American football organization, and therewith discusses its marketing strategies, team (franchise) values and such financial data as revenues, operating expenses, and profits. Based on variables contained in the model, this professional league’s economic success occurs primarily because it centrally generates and equally shares national revenue streams from the media and merchandising, controls the distribution and quality of its product and thus stabilizes consumer demand for football, allocates risk proportionately among 32 franchises, restricts the long-term growth in players’ compensation, and maintains competitive parity.[1]

To denote some real-world consequences of the model, since 1998 Forbes magazine reports information about the business of the NFL and financial facts of its various franchises. For example, staff writer Kurt Badenhausen researched the economics and operations of the league and its teams during early-to-mid-2011 and then reported his results in September of that year in an article titled “The NFL’s Most Valuable Teams.” The following are important highlights of Badenhausen’s research.

First, the average NFL team was worth approximately $1.04 billion. In fact, teams’ estimated market values ranged from $1.85 billion for the Dallas Cowboys to $725 million for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Furthermore, 15 (or 46.8 percent) of the 32 football clubs had values greater than $1 billion.

Second, from 2010 to 2011, the values of 19 (or 59.4 percent) NFL teams increased while 8 (or 25 percent) decreased and 5 (or 15.6 percent) remained the same. More specifically, the greatest increase in value was 10 percent for the New York Giants with the steepest decline in value equaling 5 percent for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Third, relative to their debt/value ratios, the largest ratio was 61 percent for the New York Jets with the smallest being 2 percent for the Green Bay Packers.

Fourth, franchises averaged $261 million in revenue for the league’s 2010 season with the Cowboys ranked first at $406 million and the Oakland Raiders ranked 32nd at $217 million.

Fifth, NFL clubs averaged $30.6 million in operating income that season. These amounts varied from $119 million for the Cowboys to a $7.7 million operating loss for the Detroit Lions. In short, the differences in dollars across the league reflect how the league’s teams performed financially both as a group and individually during the period.

As sports enterprises, what are the reasons that caused NFL franchises to realize different amounts with respect to their estimated market values and annual changes in values, debt ratios, revenues, and operating incomes? Besides their performances in regular season games and perhaps later in the playoffs and Super Bowl, and expansion in the size and purchasing power of their fan base, these reasons included such factors as capacities of their stadiums and prices of club seats, personal seat licenses, suites, and general admission at home games.

Meanwhile, other factors were monies teams received from advertising, merchandise deals, naming rights, partnerships and sponsorships, and any payments from revenue sharing. Undoubtedly, these factors and amenities from playing home games in relatively new or renovated stadiums contributed to improvements in the earnings of the New York Jets, New England Patriots, and Indianapolis Colts in the American Football Conference, and to the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins, and New York Giants in the National Football Conference.

During the next decade, the NFL is likely to become more powerful and wealthier from a business perspective and therefore continue to dominant professional sports in America. Indeed, the league signed a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association that, in part, increases franchise owners’ share of revenue from 49 to 53 percent. Moreover, between 2014 and 2022 the league will receive approximately $28 billion from television contracts with the FOX, CBS, and NBC networks and additional billions in broadcast revenue from DirectTV, ESPN, and Westwood One Radio. Consequently, NFL teams must share about $6 billion each season in media fees beginning in 2014.

Despite the league’s current popularity and lucrative business prospects, Green Bay Packers Chief Executive Officer and President Mark Murphy identified some potential problems in an August 2011 interview with Matthew Kaminski, a member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board. According to Murphy, there are five major problems. One,  concerns about the safety of the game and long-term effects of concussions and other serious injuries to teams’ players; two, concerns that bad or negative publicity in the media about safety and injuries may scare parents and thus cause their children and teenagers to ignore the game and not play football; three, an increase in ethical problems like recruiting scandals and cheating by coaches and other officials in college football programs; four, almost zero growth of participation in the sport among the Hispanic population living in America; and five, the league’s limited success to expand the game abroad especially in Asian and European countries.

In future essays, I plan to analyze a number of specific topics about the business, economics, and history of the NFL and/or the operations of college football. For more details of franchises as business organizations and competitors in the league, see Chapter 3 in Football Fortunes: The Business, Organization and Strategy of the NFL published by McFarland & Company, Inc. in 2010.                    

[1] Fisher, Jake I. “The NFL’s Current Business Model and the Potential 2011 Lockout.” Student requirement for Economics 1630: The Economics of Sports and Entertainment, Harvard University, May 2010.