Now that the NFL preseason is in full swing and the start of both the pro and college regular seasons nears, keep one thing in mind: the game is not any safer today than it was last year. Ignore the spin being driven by very rich owners, coaches, athletic directors, and a guy named Roger. The game is brutally dangerous and as violent as ever.
While some of you are getting worked up over stuff like NFL players protesting during the playing of the national anthem, you remain ignorant to the data collected by the league and NFL Players Aassociation that shows just how horrific the effects of playing football are on the brain.
While some of us wonder whether or not Social Security will be there when we become eligible, the NFL is wondering where they will get the money needed to pay off all the lawsuits, medical claims, and injury settlements that already run three times higher than the league budgeted. We are talking hundreds of millions of dollars, money owners do not want to see come from them so their solution is to drive up the price of enjoying the game. Make the addicts pay for the treatment.
New helmets, more rules on tackling, and stricter concussion protocols are not the answer, especially when the game is predicated around the concept of “going into battle” and “destroying” your opponent. Each weak teams line up against each other with the intent to inflict as much physical harm on an opponent that they eventually crack and are defeated.
There is no subtlety to the game. Quarterbacks may make the most money, but it is the men who protect him and the ones who come after him who determine outcomes. This means building the most ferocious offensive and defensive linemen possible and since they literally go head to head with each other, that works out to about 70 blows to the head each week.
Then there are the blows from tackling, collisions that carry the force of a car wreck, often leaving players so battered and bruised, it’s all they can do to get onto the practice field three days after a game ends.
We can see the broken bones, blown out knees, and the blood spilled on the field, but what we do not see is the end result of a short career of doing this. Seriously, can you name one profession where workers are put through this kind of constant exposure to harm that OSHA would sign off on?
Memory loss, nerve damage, Parkinson’s Disease, ALS comes with this game. If you are anywhere near my age, you remember the great boxer Muhammad Ali and how fast he fell apart from a career made on getting hit in the head. The only thing boxing has ever done to make their sport safer is reduce championship fights from 15 rounds to 12 rounds. The NFL wants to add more games to the season which just means more damage. Safer? Not a chance.
It is not possible to make the game of football safer at the college and pro levels. You can ban youth tackle football and replace it with flag or seven on seven passing leagues, but neither provides the violence we love in our favorite game.
Fans get up in arms over players protesting social causes during the playing of the national anthem. Unfortunately, fans do not care about what the game does to the players. Am I the only one who would love to see a league wide player protest demanding the game be made safer? Imagine the fan reaction if players came out of the locker room without pads and helmets. Imagine players telling fans the game they came to watch will be played in shorts and t-shirts. You would end up watching a game played where tacklers no longer lead with their heads and a lot fewer spine jarring or concussion inducing hits.
Maybe you are one of those ignorant fans who believe since players are well paid, it doesn’t matter. So what if their contracts are not guaranteed. Big deal if their injury was so horrific it not only ended a playing career, it kept the player from ever living another day without horrific pain.
Believe it or not, there is more to life than being rich and the money earned by any NFL player does not last long when you are left to spend large amounts of money for constant and expensive medical care.
Ever see a game where at halftime the home team honors a bunch of its former players? Have you noticed how slow some walk, how stiff they move, or how some need the help of a cane, walker, or wheel chair? Then have you looked up their biographies only to be shocked at just how young they still are?
The greatest running back I remember was Earl Campbell. He is just three years older than me and yet his body is ravaged by the effects of being one of the most feared running backs to ever play football. Arthritis, nerve damage, addiction to pain killers and much more. Jim McMahon admits to having trouble holding on to a thought thanks to more than a few concussions. Dwight Clark just recently passed away from ALS. The list is endless, but big deal, what’s a little CTE just as long as they stand for the anthem?
Last year, I just could not bring myself to follow football beyond reading about it the next day. College players are abused for the sake of University pocket books. Their “free education” comes with a huge price and no one promises their scholarship won’t be revoked if they get injured. An NFL player is lucky to play four years and land a second contract and is often left crippled enough to limit future earning potential. There are not enough coaching jobs to employ every former player, most can’t cut it if given a shot as a broadcaster, and many signed with agents who robbed them blind. That’s okay, just stand and salute before going out to make my weekend afternoon worthwhile.
I still have a few weeks to decide just how much of myself I invest in the game this year. The drama of the college regular season is superb and nothing beats the NFL post season. Still, I feel conflicted because I know I am adding to the problem simply by watching the game. I have no problem with those who still love to follow it, I just find I can’t help feeling like I just participated in something I know is wrong now that I know how dangerous the game is.
Go Niners! Fight On SC! Those words no longer get me excited for what lies ahead.
If you are still a fan, great. Just keep your perspective when it comes to how you view the men who entertain you. Theirs is a sport we really should reconsider keeping as part of our culture.
Photos by Claudia Gestro
Jim is a life long resident of California and retired school teacher with 30 years in public education. Jim earned his BA in History from CSU Chico in 1981 and his MA in Education from Azusa Pacific University in 1994. He is also the author of Teaching The Teacher: Lessons Learned From Teaching. Jim considers himself an equal opportunity pain in the ass to any political party, group, or individual who looks to profit off of hypocrisy. When he is not pointing out the conflicting words and actions of our leaders, the NFL commissioner, or humans in general, he can be found riding his bike for hours on end while pondering his next article. Jim recently moved to Camarillo, CA after being convinced to join the witness protection program.