Roger Goodell in a blue suit

Few professional sports hold the same power as the NFL. In the prime of football season, there are games on Monday, Thursday, and Sunday -– plus Saturday, if you include the playoffs. There are dedicated fans who can tailgate for hours outside the stadium, even in freezing weather or worse, like the Kansas City Chiefs supporters, per CNN. Some historic franchises have been deeply connected with fans since the beginning, like the Green Bay Packers, who are the only publicly owned team, starting in 1923. The league also welcomed an entirely new aspect to the game in the 1960s with the introduction of fantasy football –- creating a hypothetical team where players earn points based on an NFL player’s performance. By 2017, over 30 million Americans played in fantasy football leagues, via CBS.

But outside of the gridiron and behind the cameras is sometimes a much darker reality. Even listening to players that made millions as professional sports stars can reveal that life in the NFL isn’t perfect. "I bet if you talked to 100 players, I bet you 85 to 90 of them are going to say they hate the N.F.L. I just think that’s sad," former star running back Eric Dickerson told The New York Times. In his opinion, "The N.F.L. is another no-good entity." Throughout the years, the organization’s issues have included questionable policies, inaction, exploitation, and generally shady tactics.

Are you ready for some controversy? These are the secrets the NFL tried to hide.

Players have a ton of health issues

Aaron Hernandez tilting chin up

Certain moments in the NFL stay with fans for generations, like the best plays ever in the league. But the game also has long-lasting effects on its players, especially when it comes to health. One study showed that former football players in the NFL die at a faster rate than their counterparts in professional baseball. Due to cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative illnesses, "on average, the football players died 7 years earlier than MLB players," per Science. Even worse, players in earlier generations often lacked programs to assist with their well-being. "When we came up in the league, we had no health care," former NFL running back Eric Dickerson explained to The New York Times.

Another common health issue is chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E. Boston University found C.T.E. in the brains of 99 percent of NFL players who participated in a study. "The data suggest that there is very likely a relationship between exposure to football and risk of developing the disease," explained the lead author on the study. The university also discovered that due to the high physical impact of football, the risk of developing C.T.E. doubled after only 2.6 years of playing the sport. Of the many players found with C.T.E., several committed suicide, including Aaron Hernandez, who was convicted for murder in 2015. After his death in 2017, examiners found the C.T.E. in 27-year-old was "the most severe case they had ever seen in someone of Aaron’s age," The New York Times reported.

Harassment toward women in the league

Dan Snyder in sunglasses

In 2020, 15 women who were former employees of The Washington Football Team spoke out to The Washington Post and claimed "they were sexually harassed during their time at the club." While fans were cheering on the team, these women said they dealt with "frequent sexual harassment and verbal abuse." According to the allegations that took place between 2006 and 2019, mostly under team owner Daniel Snyder, many of the top executives ignored any complaints of wrongdoing.

Snyder denied many of the claims and hired a law firm to internally investigate the situation. After people questioned the legitimacy of Snyder choosing the law firm, the NFL took over the investigation. Meanwhile, lawyers representing the women in the investigation challenged the NFL to "publicly commit to taking action to remove Snyder as the majority owner," The New York Times reported.

In the end, Roger Goodell, the NFL’s commissioner, "fined the franchise a record $10 million and ordered Snyder to stay away from the team’s facilities for several months," per The New York Times. But Goodell never released the results of the investigation to the public, "despite calls to do so by lawyers for some of the women who brought accusations and by members of Congress." Plus, Snyder allegedly tried to intervene when the NFL took over the investigation, even sending private investigators to intimidate people involved in the case, The Washington Post reported. As of 2022, Snyder was still the owner of The Washington Football Team.

Ray Rice in a suit
Ryan Broyles with helmet off
Rams fans in horned hats
Jerry Richardson in football stadium
Scowling Bill Belichick wearing hoodie
An empty stadium in Las Vegas
Colin Kaepernick kneeling with teammates