“If you throw at someone’s head, it’s very dangerous,
because in the head is the brain.” – Ivan Rodriguez.
the diligent guy I am, I did some extensive research and come to find out, this
is in fact true. Thanks, Pudge.
Concussions in football are already a hot topic and have been for quite some time. New York Jets stalwart Al Toon’s chronic headaches being reported in the early 90’s are my first recollection of the severity of concussions being discussed in football. Since then, concussions have ended the career of many of the game’s greats, including my favorite quarterback of all-time, Steve Young.
The Young hit, at the hands of Cardinals
great Aeneas Williams, was a vicious collision that today would be flagged. As
a Niners fan, I was watching the game live. I remember being fearful for Young,
while thinking the hit was legal because Williams didn’t lead with the crown of
his helmet or launch himself.
But just tackling at someone’s head, it’s very
dangerous, because in the head is the brain.
Helmet to helmet rules were later installed in
order to protect defenseless players. But, football is violent, and concussions
take their toll on even the most defensive players, as the Junior Seau tragedy
Recently I attended the Big 12 Media Days where
Walt Anderson, head of Big 12 officiating and himself a NFL head referee, made
a statement that has long concerned me, “We need to change the rules to protect
the players or we’ll have someone change them for us.”
The part about changing the rules doesn’t concern
me too much, yet, but the prospect of having the government step in and
To date politicians have stayed mostly out of the
spotlight on the topic. In an interview before the Super Bowl, President Barack
Obama said all the right things about players being compensated well and taking
accountability for themselves.
Politicians on all sides are populists by nature,
though, so if public sentiment ever shifts towards extreme safety measures,
rather than practical measures meant to keep the game looking similar to years
past, then you may see more involvement.
Noted writer Malcolm Gladwell recently
re-iterated his stance that football is no different than dog-fighting. I’ll
never support an argument that removes accountability from the person, so this
is a non-starter for me. But, I’m just one person and I’d be willing to bet
there are a lot of people that either agree with Gladwell, or take what he says
at face value.
Here’s the link, with the tip of the camp to Horns Up in St.
Louis from the 'Ryan Swope' thread.
A better case to make, in my opinion, would be
smoking. Smokers decide to start smoking often times because a parent, relative
or friend does. Children or young men often start playing football for the same
reason, though I’m well aware of some over-bearing parents pushing their
children in that direction. Smokers decide to continue smoking, and at some
point, removed from parental oversight, football players decide the same.
Smokers can quit at any time, though it is very addictive and difficult to do
so. The same case can be made for football players as the sport they love
becomes a way of life.
Smokers quit all the time, so it’s not only
possible, but common, and as former Texas A&M receiver Ryan Swope recently
proved, you can give up football before the payday and, hopefully for him, long
term effects set in.
Both have been glamorized to great degrees,
though smoking much less so as we move further away from the old black and
white movies that made the image iconic and sexy.
I recall asking older people who grew up in that
era why they smoked and I often received similar answers, “Everyone smoked
because we didn’t know how bad it was for us like you kids now. And it was
Wait, you thought inhaling smoke into your lungs
would not pose serious health risks? I would often respond that many victims in
fires die of smoke inhalation, rather than the actual fire.
The same approach applies to football. The number
one indication that it’s an obviously dangerous sport is you have to wear a
helmet. Tennis players don’t wear helmets. Golfers don’t either. People that
race at a high rate of speed do, and it’s not uncommon when one of those sports
takes a participants life.
The helmet is required for a reason, because in
the head is the brain.
Just as I feel terrible for people stricken with
lung cancer caused by years of smoking, I feel terrible for athletes
experiencing the long term concussive effects of their job, especially in light
of the immense entertainment value the fan receives in the process.
The million dollar question, quite literally for
the NFL, is where will the topic go from here?
If government stepping in isn’t a concern, and as
of now it appears it has no intentions of doing so, litigation is. Currently
the NFL is being sued by 4,000 former players in a class action lawsuit of
sorts. You can make the analogy again that the smoker is the football player,
and in this example, the NFL is Big Tobacco, right down to the case being based
on the suppression of information linking the effects of the activity to
long-term health risks.
Whatever happens in this still pending case will
have positive effects towards remedying the epidemic, but for the NFL, at what
price? The Shield will have to strike a balance between player safety, and
keeping its product fast and violent. In years to come, I believe that will be
a more difficult balance to strike.
I agree with making the head off limits to
defenseless players, and the more I look into the subject, the more I think I’m
getting on board with the ejection element of the new NCAA rule, provided it’s
implemented somewhat fairly (human error will render 100% accuracy impossible).
This will make defenders more timid, to be sure, but it should also make them
realize, at least over time, that the strike zone becomes more similar to baseball’s
by the day.
If the powers that be in the NFL or NCAA take any
more measures than what they currently have, I fear the game that’s become our
national pastime, will become past-time.
At this point the excuse ‘players don’t know the
negative effects of football’ are moot, in my opinion, and it’s their choice if
they want to play. Much of life is asking the risk-reward question. For these
men the rewards are much greater than most of us will ever experience, but
unfortunately, save for our military, police and firemen, so too are the risks.
I’d be interested in your thoughts on this wide