The Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens are set to square off Thursday night in the opening game of the National Football League season. For the first time in three years, there is no labor strife to speak of at the beginning of the season, and with the NFL and 4,500 of its former players reaching a settlement in a major concussion lawsuit, the NFL hopes it has removed one of the biggest black clouds that has ever hung over the game.
There are still plenty of on- and off-field issues that will affegiansct this season, though, including concussions. Here’s our guide to football season and the topics outside of the game itself that will continue to dominate the discussion:
Concussions: The $765 million settlement former players and the NFL reached still needs to earn approval from a federal judge before it is finalized, and that will involve objections from some players who are party to the suit and continued analysis of whether the settlement was fair. And just because this suit was settled doesn’t mean the NFL is totally clear — other concussion lawsuits still remain, just like concussions, which players and teams still aren’t always taking seriously. Once the settlement is totally behind it, will the NFL take a more frank position on the links between its game and brain injuries? How it responds to concussions will set an example for leagues at every other level of the game. The NFL has changed rules in an attempt to make football safer and has put money toward research into concussions and brain trauma. Still, the ongoing question remains: is it doing enough, and ultimately, can it do enough to make football safe for the men who play it?
LGBT Rights: Despite reports that a current NFL player would come out as gay during the offseason, it didn’t happen. The NFL did, however, have a high-profile offseason on the LGBT rights front. Brendan Ayanbadejo, Chris Kluwe, and dozens of others signed onto a brief against California’s Proposition 8 and also advocated for the elimination of the Defense of Marriage Act, which the Supreme Court eventually ruled unconstitutional. The league’s front office worked with New York attorney general Eric Schniederman to bolster its non-discrimination policies after franchises reportedly asked multiple draft picks about their sexuality. Here’s hoping the 2013 season will be the last one that opens without an openly gay player on an NFL roster.
Stadium Financing: It wouldn’t be a new NFL season without a new NFL stadium built by taxpayer money. The San Francisco 49ers are the lucky team in 2013, as they’ll move into the $1.2 billion Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. The Miami Dolphins lost a high-profile battle for public funds over the summer, though they continue to fight for it in the state legislature. The St. Louis Rams are another team asking their city for big money, and the Minnesota Vikings, whose new stadium is already a boondoggle and it hasn’t even been built, are facing renewed scrutiny from the state legislature after owner Zygi Wilf was involved in fraud litigation. The Atlanta Falcons are still searching for land for their new publicly-financed palace. Taxpayers in Houston, meanwhile, bought their Texans the biggest scoreboard in NFL history during the offseason — at a cost of $16 million.
Washington’s Football Team: Washington owner Daniel Snyder said during the offseason that he would “NEVER” change the name of his Redskins, but the issue that received attention over the offseason from members of Congress and the D.C. city council will continue to simmer during the season thanks to a lawsuit asking a federal trademark court to overturn trademark protections for the name on grounds that it is racist and offensive. The same court threw out the name’s trademark protection in 1999, only for it to be overturned on appeal in 2003. The case may not be over before this season is, but it also isn’t going away any time soon, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell can’t hide behind the ridiculous assertion that the name stands for “strength, courage, pride, and respect” forever.
Predictions: The team I picked to win the college national title lost its first game of the season, so predictions aren’t really my thing. But here goes: the Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers will meet in the Super Bowl in New York, where Aaron Rodgers and the Packers will win another Lombardi Trophy. After a surprising 2012 season, Washington won’t make the playoffs in 2013. Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers will take a small step back, but Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks won’t. In what seems like the easiest prediction of all-time, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan will get fired during the season.