Can We Live Without The Violence in Football?
You may have noticed the biggest controversy going in the National Football League isn't regarding the "screw job" the replacement refs did on the Packers last year on Monday Night Football, (spoiler, still not the worst call in the world), but rather on the effects of concussions on the brains of people playing football. It's a lot of scary stuff out there about the effects of concussions, and with the speed and strength of the athletes in today's game, it's almost a certainty on any given Sunday a player or two will have a concussion
If you are unfamiliar with the topic, you can find articles like this one at Grantland or the source of the article, a book called League of Denial, upon which a documentary by the same name is the reason concussions and football are a hot read this week. This book/documentary paints the NFL as the mustache twirling bad guys who are refusing to admit that concussion can have long term health impacts all in the name of PR and saving money on lawsuits and such even though they allegedly covered up that fact. I'm not going to go into that, though generally I would think that my distrust for Big Business/Corporations would fit this point of view. However, that's a story for another time.
What I wonder, in light of all this new information, is how I feel about football. American football, or gridiron football, is absolutely the number one sport in America by a far margin. (Sorry, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer and curling.) It's a multi-billion dollar business to be sure with all the hardcore fandom, gambling, fantasy football and everything. I love football, and some of my only earliest memories as a kid were rooting for the New York Giants in the 80's. But the cat is out of the bag, and there are several example of former players suffering health and mental problems because they played football in a hardnosed era before anyone knew about concussions. You were more likely told to walk it off and keep playing. The image of Willis Reed coming back into the Knicks game is the iconic symbol of what it means to play hurt and play tough.
But we know better now. Especially when it comes to the matters of the brain, we need to be more careful, and because of those truths, should we be allowing our kids to be playing football? Should we still be vociferously supporting the NFL product if indeed they have been as negligent as has been reported? Those are tough questions at least for me because of my stances on other things.
I refuse to pay for a Seattle Mariners' on principal because they backdoored approval for Safeco Field when the voters decided they did not want to fund the stadium. I boycotted the Madden football video game franchise because they got exclusive licensing for the NFL and therefore created a monopoly. I voice my displeasure about college sports and how hypocritical it is that they make so much money off the student-athletes and then don't take care of them in terms of keeping them accountable for their education or letting them make even a little bit of money for their talents.
But this issue with the NFL is different. I love the NFL, and I don't yet know how to practically integrate what I know now with how I feel. Should I start boycotting the NFL until they 'fess up to their cover ups? Should I let them off the hook because the athletes know what they are getting into and signed up for it? Does it make me a hypocrite when I cheer for the big hits? That's a lot of things to figure out, and yet it has to start somewhere, right?
For sure, there has been an effort to make the sport safer like this program that teaches kids how to tackle properly so they don't get themselves into vulnerable positions. College, high school and youth football has made more of an effort to use safer mouth guards and helmets, but a big influence will come from the professional athletes who still resists some of these changes because the safer equipment doesn't look as cool. Obviously there's a lot of work to go around in terms of making football safe enough to the point were it's not going to be looked upon by future generations as bloody gladiator games.
But again, what is my part in all of this? What can I do? I'm not sure yet, but as GI Joe taught us, "Knowing is half the battle." But that still leaves half of something else to do.