By Staff Reports
As the National Football League gets ready for championship weekend with a thrilling pair of games to decide who advances to the Super Bowl, a threat lurks.
Contact sports, most acutely football, are facing a stark, new threat: an evaporating insurance market that is fundamentally altering their economics, squeezing and even killing off programs faced with higher costs and a scarcity of available coverage, an ESPN/Outside the Lines investigation has found.
"People say football will never go away, but if we can't get insurance, it will," Jon Butler, Pop Warner's executive director, lamented to colleagues after discovering that just one carrier was willing to cover the organization for head trauma, according to a person who was present.
The NFL no longer has general liability insurance covering head trauma, and just one carrier is willing to provide workers' compensation coverage for NFL teams.
The insurance choices for football helmet manufacturers are equally slim; one helmet company executive said he was aware of only one. Pop Warner Little Scholars, which oversees 225,000 youth players, was forced to switch insurers after its longtime carrier, a subsidiary of the insurance giant AIG, refused to provide coverage without an exclusion for any neurological injury.
With youth participation rates continuing to fall, the insurance crisis adds another layer of uncertainty to the future of America's No. 1 sport.
This weekend's games pit the New England Patriots against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC, while the Los Angeles Rams battle the New Orleans Saints in the NFC. If viewers tune in as they have the past two weeks, ratings will be very high.
The Super Bowl is slated for Feb. 3 in Atlanta.