I don’t have anything brilliant to say. As a matter of fact I’m relatively speechless. I just saw on ESPN a brief clip of Junior Seau’s funeral, followed by a discussion on concussions in the NFL. The TV was muted, so I don’t know what was said. But the juxtaposition of the images spoke volumes.
Last I heard his death is being ruled a suicide. Those who know him best decry depression. A possibility that is being floated around is brain disease due to concussions and years of rough contact to the head. The NFL has been studying concussions and their short and long term effects for years, I understand. (Hence the relatively new no-tolerance rules about blows to the head.) It is also being sued by a group of 100 former players who claim the NFL didn’t do enough to protect their players from concussions.
I am a huge football fan (especially college football), so what follows is somewhat difficult for me to say. Outside of shortening the season or (gasp) doing away with tackle football altogether, I wonder what can be done to make the game significantly safer. Granted, I am neither a doctor nor a sports trainer, and I have never played football. But it doesn’t take being in any of these professions to know that the game is very hard on players’ bodies. I do happen to have a personal relationship with a player. Those of us who love him both cheer him on and hold our breaths. All can be well and then terribly wrong just seconds later. It’s the risk he takes to play the game and he sacrifices his body willingly.
It’s a strange thing that we love and play this brutal game so much. (We could add other high contact sports here and the discussion would be the same.) I don’t know the exact statistics, but between advertising, merchandising, agents, media, etc. football is a billion dollar industry at both the college and professional levels. My mind conjures a scene from the movie Gladiator, with the Roman citizenry crowded into the Coliseum to take pleasure in the violence. Granted, football players are not slaves. But I wonder if we the spectators aren’t something like those of ancient Rome without the blood lust. We love and watch the game knowing the hitting will be hard and the potential for injury is good. And the harder the hitting is, the more props we give to our heroes for their toughness. We signal our approval with vicarious utterings of “ooo!” and “ugh!” that resonate throughout the stadium. It’s not like we fans don’t know that our players are in pain. Perhaps it’s because we know this that we pay homage to them with our cheers, adoration and money as we do.
Some may counter that, as mentioned above, the players willingly subject themselves to this life. They are pampered at the college level and paid well as professionals. Both points are indeed true and conceded. I’m not convinced, though, that they justify the fact that the players risk their health and quality of life for our entertainment and the glory that comes from our adulation.
I don’t have any answers, and I’ll continue to support and cheer for my teams. I do believe, though, that I’ll add all football players to my prayer list.