Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay told the Sports Business Journal that players understand they are taking a risk playing football, but said much is not known about side effects of participating in the sport, comparing it to the varying side effects one might experience from taking aspirin.
Irsay made his comments to the publication at last week's owners meetings in Boca Raton, Florida. The Sports Business Journal published excerpts from the conversation with Irsay on Monday.
According to the Sports Business Journal, Irsay referred to bobsledding several times during the interview as a sport that, like football, poses dangers to its participants.
But, like taking an aspirin, much is not yet known about the side effects of playing, he said.
"I believe this: that the game has always been a risk, you know, and the way certain people are. 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," he told the Journal.
He also said that intimations that the NFL knew of post-career health problems for players in the 1960s or '70s are "just not true."
"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," he told the Journal.
He said the NFL is trying to make the game safer "without changing the game."
"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," he told the Journal.
Irsay said it was "absurd" to try to tie football to "suicides or murders," and said doing so diminishes other problems, like addiction, that players face.
"... I believe that is just so absurd as well and it is harmful to other diseases, harmful to things like ... when you get into the use of steroids, when you get into substance abuse, you get into the illness of alcohol and addiction. It's a shame that gets missed, because there [are] very deadly diseases there, for instance, like alcoholism and addiction. That gets pushed to the side and [a person] says, 'Oh, no. Football.' To me, that's really absurd," he told the Journal.
Irsay has had to overcome his own addiction problems, checking into rehab in 2014 after he was arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated in March of that year. He later pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
Irsay's comments follow those of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who also made headlines when he said at last week's meetings that he wasn't convinced the data shows a connection between playing football and neurodegenerative diseases such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Jones later tried to clarify his comments, which came a week after a top NFL official acknowledged for the first time a link between CTE and football.
Irsay told the Journal that the NFL makes for an easy target because of its popularity.
"Football is so popular, people know they can sell their story in a newspaper form or a rating on TV, so they use football because what they are more about is the business of, you know, selling newspapers or seeing commercial time on TV. I see it for what it is, man. I stand there and look at it as a grandfather and someone who has been around for 50 years and sure, part of it is frustrating, but everyone has their own self-motivating motive, and that just happens," he told the publication.
Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy, who has recently been using social media to speak out about football and CTE, criticized Irsay in an Instagram post Monday, writing: "Frequent trips to the pharmacy makes you a medical expert on CTE?"