Fighting the NFL’s Biggest Issue Head On
By Andrew “Fish” Fain
One of the oldest clichés’ is that of a husband forgetting his wife’s birthday or their anniversary. It has been used countless times on sitcoms and is always a cheap gag to get a laugh.
It’s not so funny when a man not only forgets those landmark events in his life, but also forgets more important things like his children’s names, his own phone number and even how to tie his shoes.
Sadly, that is the future for many present and former NFL players due to repeated blows to the head while playing the sport they love. For some former players, forgetting things would be the least of their worries. Former All-Pro Linebacker and amazing human being Junior Seau committed suicide due to declining mental facilities from getting hit too many times in the head. Word is, he just couldn’t face a future where his mental faculties were not where they ought to be.
But he is not the only one who had that concern. One former player who I spoke with, and wished to remain anonymous, told me that his biggest fear isn’t dying, but growing old without being able to hold his children and his grandkids. A life in which he needs help for the simplest tasks like tying his shoes or brushing his teeth. He told me he knows the day is coming when he won’t remember things anymore, and to him, that is a fate worse than death.
While the concussion issue is not new to the NFL, it is now becoming an epidemic. Political pundit and sports enthusiast George Will was recently on one of the political talk shows, and this very topic came up. Will pulled no punches when explaining why all this was happening saying “Over 20 yards, which is where a lot of football is played, these guys are as fast as cats, fast as running backs, and the kinetic energy is producing what is called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, CTE, get used to that, because it’s going to be the subject of lawsuits and other things. The crucial word is chronic. Repeated, small but repeated blows to the head, the brain floating in the pan in the skull, now we know causes early dementia and other problems.”
The biggest reason to see why this problem is coming to the forefront now is easy to find. All you have to do is look at the size of today’s players versus the ones who were on the field just 30 years ago. Back then there were only 2 players in the entire league who weighed more than 300 pounds. In 2011, there were 2 who weighed more than 350 pounds and 352 who weighed more than 300.
The players are bigger and faster and hit with much greater speed and power than they ever did. Think about it, they are all bigger, but the field is still the same size. It’s like if you roll two marbles at each other in an arena, when they collide it will have some impact, but nothing too major. Now take that same size arena and instead of marbles picture two bowling balls colliding, the impact is a lot greater. That’s what the collisions in the NFL are like today.
Just how prevalent are concussions in today’s NFL? Well after the 2010 season there were a total of 167 concussions, which is an average of over 9 per week of the NFL season.
The biggest surprise may be who suffers from concussions the most. Defensive backs suffered 44 concussions in 2010, while QB’s only had 11. Wideouts had the most on offense, suffering from 28 of them.
There is no question how violent a sport football is. One of the biggest stories of the off-season was the Saints “Bounty-Gate” scandal, in which players were actually paid a bonus if they “took out” certain opposing players.
As horrible as that sounds to the layman, nobody was trying to injure anyone, just hurt them. It may sound like semantics, but there is a HUGE difference. In the NFL, players play hurt all the time, but very rarely play when injured. Bounties like that are nothing new to the NFL, but this was the first time they were recorded on tape.
The punishment from Commissioner Roger Goodell was swift and harsh, suspending players and coaches for anything from 2 games to an entire season. But it just proves that this sport at its base level is as barbaric as the Roman Gladiators.
The NFL is also a victim of its own success as far as these injuries go. A certain television provider, who shall remain nameless (but let’s say their name rhymes with Birec TV), has a commercial for their football package that actually says “don’t miss a single big hit”. Counting on the fact that one of the major reasons people watch is for the violence inherent in the game.
But let’s not just blame the NFL here. A survey was conducted of 100 sports fans regarding why they watch certain sporting events, and the results should come as no surprise.
NASCAR fans watch for the crashes, NHL fans watch for the fights, MMA fans watch to see people get pounded and NFL fans watch for the bone crushing hits. These are indisputable facts, that show not only how we are, at our base, a barbaric society, but that if any of these were taken out of their respective sports, they would surely suffer major financial losses.
2000 former NFL players filed a lawsuit against the league for “concealing information linking football-related injuries to long-term brain damage.” Of course the league denies this claim, and for once I am on the side of management.
I think it is ridiculous to sue over the violence in a sport in which you knew was violent to begin with. It would be like a surgeon suing a hospital because he didn’t realize how much blood he would be working with.
I mean, really???? The NFL as a whole are all just about one sandwich short of a picnic. How else can you explain a group of people with everything to lose, getting a total of 31 arrests between the end of the Super Bowl and the start of training camp? That doesn’t even include such “wonderful” incidents as Cowboys WR Dez Bryant allegedly attacking his mother.
So the question now is, what can be done about this huge issue that is only going to get worse as athletes get bigger, faster and stronger. Do we make players sign a waiver before they enter the NFL saying they know the dangers of playing such a sport? Do we change the game entirely and make it a larger version of a backyard game of flag football?
To be honest with you, I am not totally sure what the correct answer is. The one suggestion I have will not be popular, nor does it have anything to do with the NFL. But how about not letting kids under the age of 15 play tackle football?
If one of the issues is constant and repeated blows to the head, if we don’t allow kids to start as young as 8, that will add years of NOT getting blows on the head.
The question to be answered is, what does Roger Goodell want his legacy as Commissioner to be? If he’s not careful, he may be the guy who killed the golden goose.