Recently, my Aunt Susan linked to a documentary regarding the NFL’s denial of a link between football and head trauma and the ongoing scandal that has resulted from the actions (and inaction) of the league. She asked what my brother and I thought about it which led me to think about what football has meant to me in general.
Let me lead by saying that I think it is unfortunate that the NFL has gone to the lengths it has to deny that football can have a negative impact on the brain health of players. Anyone with a lick of common sense can look at the recent research and see that repeated concussions are bad and that small head traumas add up over time. I think the NFL could act as a leader in more meaningful ways than they currently are:
- Mandate safer helmets which have been determined to provide better protection against head trauma
- Suspend players for violent hits rather than just fining them (unlike college, I believe these suspensions should be issued post-game rather than in-game)
- Require that player helmets fit appropriately – a helmet coming off should cause a player to miss the remainder of the half
- Reduce the number of total games played over a season (or increase the active roster size substantially)
I think this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what could be done. Major changes like revisions to the nature of helmet construction (padded foam rubber instead of hard plastic shells) and removing kickoffs from the game could be viable options down the line. Of course, I would be negligent if I didn’t mention the things that the league is doing already to protect players:
- Hits to the head are punished (although it seems to be somewhat inconsistent)
- Concussion testing is now mandatory for players showing symptoms
- The NFL is promoting the Heads Up Football program in a big way (which is a huge deal, in all honesty)
All this being said, none of the recent research affects the way I feel about football, either as a player or a spectator. Here’s what I said on Facebook:
I know I’ve had concussions while playing and it may have affected me for the rest of my life. Also, the position I played is particularly susceptible to repeated small impacts, which some research has shown is actually worse than single big hits.
All that being said, I wouldn’t trade my playing experience for anything. I learned the value of camaraderie and being part of a team. I had experiences that I’ll remember the rest of my life and a lot of my physical fitness can be attributed directly to football. I think there are ways to make the game safer and I’m hoping they’re implemented, but I’ll never feel bad about enjoying the sport.
I love football. I loved playing and I love watching it. It is a chess game played by large, athletic men (and some women) who need to work together in a very precise way to achieve a shared outcome.
As a player, I experienced the whole gamut of human emotions almost every time I stepped on the field. From pure elation to the deepest despair. Sadness, joy, loneliness, and togetherness – all of these could be felt in a single game. I learned about myself as a man and as a leader. I pushed myself to the limits and the only thing I regret is not playing longer than I did.
As a spectator, I enjoy the technical aspect of the game. While most people who watch football follow the ball and watch the skill position players, I more often than not am watching the intricate stunts and blitz pickups by the defensive and offensive lines. I’m watching the techniques of the linebackers as they read their keys and either drop into coverage or attack. I yell at the TV and boo the refs like everyone else (if not, what’s the point of being a fan) but my enjoyment goes to a deeper level than the play on the screen.
If Angela and I are blessed with a male child in the coming years, I’ll probably encourage him to give football a try when he reaches adolescence and I think Angela will, too. I believe strongly that the benefits of a structured football program outweigh the risks.