Today, Joe Namath will give a talk about the repercussions of football on the human body. These are my thoughts on the subject...
I love football. I will always love football. The word used in this article about the truths of brain injuries caused by the sport is the right one: sobering. It’s a horrific side-effect, but the reality is that professional football will not go away – nor should it. The risks taken by the players are now public; the possible traumas are documented. Like anything we come to enjoy – things as simple as running, and its effect on the knees; drinking, and its effect on lifestyle and the entire body – we undertake with the understanding that “That won’t happen to me,” because that is the nature of human beings. We are exempt of all possible repercussions until we aren’t.
Add to that the glory and paycheck, and suddenly a little brain trauma doesn’t mean much. And do not discount a genuine love of the game. Remember, a lot of these players have played since they were kids – from taxi and pee-wee football, up through college – with no paycheck. Few people do anything as long without a real passion for it. As a quick exercise, take a moment and think of something you truly love doing, something you have a real passion for. Now think about the harm it would have to cause for you to stop. Say you’re getting paid millions of dollars to do that thing you love. Now what would it take to stop you? Add the fame, the endorsements, the adoration of fans. Now what would it take?
In terms of responsibility to safety, the NFL has issued fines for helmet-to-helmet contact. But that won’t stop such incidents. They have moved up the kickoff point fifteen yards to ensure more touchbacks, rather than full-speed collisions. What else can be done beyond that, save for educating players? Too much more and the game loses the elements that make it worth watching – the things that make it exciting. We love good hits, good blocks, good tackles – as do the players – because it’s part of the game. It’s the whole game, in fact. The game is built around physical contact, and being stronger and faster than the other guy. Offsetting risk must come down to educating players.
But perhaps it’s about the quality of education. A more realistic approach may be necessary – a sobering or “scared straight” approach to really drive home the risks. But, is the goal to dissuade players from following their dreams of playing at a professional level? That would undermine the NFL’s own agenda, so I have to believe education is less about educating, and more about liability and responsibility. The responsibility is to make the sport safer, and to get each player to understand the direct link between football and brain damage, as well as the grim realities of brain damage as a realistic result of the sport, not just as an abstract or "possible" result. The NFL would be liable if they were to treat this education as a blasé protocol rather than a serious attempt at getting players to understand the repercussions of their sport, so I have to believe it is taken seriously. How to actually communicate that is probably impossible, however, because in the absence of personal experience wisdom struggles to develop. We each learn best when it becomes detrimental to ignore the truths of our personal undertakings. Even then, we sometimes choose to ignore readily apparent facts and patterns. Football players are no different from you and I in that regard, so how education is handled in the locker rooms is probably moot.
So the weight of this must come down to something else. Consider that for as much as we each have the responsibility to ourselves and family to stay healthy, we also have a responsibility to ourselves to live the lives we want to live. Sure, that sounds silly and naïve when the life we want to live causes brain trauma, memory loss, and other horrible things, but this is the case. People make choices based on their heart, more so than their mind. Also, let’s be honest: the dangers of football are known. The facts are out there. For as much as we may hear and read the studies of brain injuries sustained from football, it stands to reason that professional athletes are privy to such knowledge ten fold. Just like we know what can happen by smoking cigarettes, working in law enforcement, or running five miles every day, professional football players know the risks of their undertaking. Like anything else, it’s not about how much we know the facts and the risks – it’s about how much we accept them.