A letter to the red-blooded football fan...
Published: Thursday, February 14, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 15, 2013 14:02
First thing’s first. I like football.
I like it a lot, actually. Watching it, talking about it, playing it—it’s a fun sport. There’s really nothing like it, and fans like me all across the country have made it a billion dollar industry and arguably the most popular sport in America.
And you, the red-blooded football fan, like football even more than me—which is saying a lot. You’re the fan whose tribal touchdown celebrations bring back memories of the movie 300. You love Beyoncé, at least now you do after her electric Super Bowl halftime performance (see what I did there?). You love football games in the cold, in the rain or in the snow, when players truly find what they’re made of.
But most importantly—you love the big hits. There’s just something about seeing the ball carrier get leveled on a fourth-and-1 stop that really gets the blood flowing. “That’s what football is all about,” you think.
Right now, you’re probably wondering what I’m getting at. If you are—good job!—then you know this article isn’t going to be me just talking about things we agree on. I just had to warm you up. What I’m about to say, Mr. Red Blooded Football Fan, isn’t going to be something you want to hear.
No, this isn’t that Beyoncé lip-synced her Super Bowl performance.
It’s about concussions.
“Blah blah blah,” you say. You’re tired of hearing this. I understand. Bear with me.
Concussions have been a hot topic in football recently, and there has been a lot of controversy over whether they make the game “unsafe” or even “unplayable.” Commentators, coaches and players have gone on and on about their opinions, but one voice that really stood out from all the noise is that of Bernard Pollard, the starting safety of the Super Bowl XLVII champion Baltimore Ravens. Days before the big game, he was asked in an interview with cbssports.com about his thoughts on the future of the NFL. This is what he had to say:
"Thirty years from now," he said, "I don't think it will be in existence. I could be wrong. It's just my opinion, but I think with the direction things are going -- where they [NFL rules makers] want to lighten up, and they're throwing flags and everything else -- there's going to come a point where fans are going to get fed up with it.
You might agree with Pollard on being frustrated with the way the game’s been called recently. It seems that more and more flags have been thrown and we’re seeing bigger penalties for lesser hits. “I don’t understand,” you contend. “Football is a dangerous sport.”
We’ve known that football is a dangerous sport for years—you don’t need to be a doctor to see that. It’s apparent when you see 6’6”, 300 pound linemen attempt to drag each other to the ground.
You do, however, need to be a doctor to diagnose chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. “Why aren’t we talking about football anymore?” you ask. Calm down, we’re getting there.
CTE is a degenerative brain disease—it worsens with time. It’s been found in soldiers, hockey players, and, you guessed it, football players. Basically, anyone who has had had trauma has a chance of contracting it. It can cause depression, and even suicidal thoughts. CTE is just the start, however. As more and more research is being done, we’re finding out more and more about the possible links between football and brain damage.
Junior Seau is just one example of a football player whose brain may have been affected by football. His suicide was tragic—and perhaps preventable. Players such as him have caused Roger Goodell & the NFL to discourage any hits to the head with warnings, fines and suspensions as we continue to learn more about brain trauma. That leads us to where we are today, with you being frustrated with the system. Poor you, your defense has to stay on the field after third down because “the idiot ref called helmet-to-helmet contact.”
“It’s football,” you say. “They know what they’re getting into.”
Well, that’s not exactly true. Over 50 ex-players have sued the NFL claiming that they have had information vital to their well-being withheld from them. And that’s just the start.
Up until recently, concussion treatments weren’t exactly adequate, and many players were cleared to play when in reality they were only putting themselves in further danger. So, no, they didn’t know what all what they were getting into.
One would think that Goodell’s stricter implementation of rules would be understandable considering the circumstances. Flags and fines for hits to the head have come bigger and bigger. But you’re not okay with it. This puts Goodell in a tough situation. His employees are suing him because of the violence, and his customers are complaining because they’re not getting enough of it. “Let them play,” you say. “I don’t want this turning into flag football.”
Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. And I understand where you’re coming from. You love the game of football in its current form, and you don’t want to mess with a good thing.
The problem is, the system we have right now is not a good thing. It’s not a good thing that players are suing the NFL for brain damage. It’s not a good thing when ex-players are super-gluing their teeth and using a Taser to relieve their back pain, as Mike Webster, a former Steelers center did near the end of his life. It’s not a good when multiple reports show that every year spent in the NFL can take years from a player’s life.