I always like to go back and re-read things from the last year I thought were ground breaking and would affect the coming year.
The Football and Concussions article in the New Yorker by Ben McGrath is one of these. As a 9 year veteran of the NFL, this article hits close to home, as I played with and against many of the players mentioned.
Who couldn’t forget the Zest commercials with Iron Head Hayworth?
“But Iron Head aren’t body washes for ladies?”
Or the article Mike Webster’s son wrote for Starting Strength? That article was one of the best things I have read in recent years. It was heart wrenching to read, knowing the abuse Mike had taken playing and his eventual demise. But it stirred a feeling of admiration and respect for the man and his accomplishments and the son for sharing private stories of his father.
Football is a violent game, played by violent individuals is what I was always told by coaches and front office.
But now it seems the NFL has an image problem, and the one thing the NFL does not like is an image problem. They pay big money to focus groups and marketing firms to make sure they are operating within the limits of what America feels is “acceptable violence.”
What is “acceptable violence?”
Acceptable violence is just enough violence that America keeps turning on the TV, keeps buying the NFL Ticket package and keeps voting for their favorite players online for the Pro Bowl. Too much violence and America will not let their children watch football on Sundays and will start turning off the TVs.
The NFL lives and dies by the TV contracts and if the violence, injuries and players become too much, the American public will become outraged and someone will have to act to save us.
In this case, it is usually Congress or the Senate. Instead, of working to fix the economy and not line their own pockets, politicians will point to violence in NFL football as the reasons for our national trouble. They will start Congressional hearings to examine violence in football and concussions, waste millions of tax payers dollars trying to figure out the only way you are going to stop the violence is to stop paying athletes millions of dollars for playing the game as they are instructed.
Can you imagine losing the Super Bowl because a defensive end does not sack the quarterback before he throws the winning touchdown?
And when the coach, the fans, media and front office ask why he didn’t make the play and responds with, “It was going to be a vicious hit and I didn’t want to hurt him. So I let up and let him make the play. I don’t want to get fined or hurt anyone. Did you want me to potentially hurt the QB and get fined thousands of dollars?”
This is where it is headed.
First, I blame the internet. Before the internet there was no voice for the players who had been injured. Ex-players are messed up with everything from fused backs to dementia and they are talking about it. And players are having serious issues…guys like Mike Webster, Terry Long, Justin Strzelczyk, Andre Waters and Dave Duerson being the most public, with four out of five committing suicide.
Second, I blame the blind eye so many have turned towards the NFL for so many years. Most fans, coaches and front office only support their team and realize the players are perishable commodities to be used and thrown away. Look at the reaction by fans during the lockout and NFL contract negations. Very few fans were in the corner of the players and only felt by asking for more money the players were spoiled and greedy. Seems odd when the owners are making money hand over fist on the backs of this perishable commodities; that these pieces of fruit left to rot in the sun should dare ask for a few table scraps of the Jerry Jones, Arthur Blank and Robert Kraft’s of the world. Who do they think they are?
How can you stop the violence in football?
The game is by nature a violent game.
Ask 11 men wearing armor to impose their will on another group of 11 men wearing armor standing just across an imaginary line and see what happens. Now add 75,000 fans screaming and millions of dollars in salary and see where it gets us. Now breed an attitude of superiority in the men from the time they are children, and for good measure, have them lift weights and train like it was a job from high school.
You are going to find a game more akin to the Roman Gladiator games then ballet. And if it is the modern version of the Gladiator games, then lets not pretend it is something it is not.
I would rather see every player enter the stadium and scream, “Ave Caesar, morituri te salutant.”
For those of you without a classics degree, it translates to, “Hail Ceaser, those of us about to die salute you.”
The gladiators knew the outcome when they walked on to the sand. Football players should be educated on the outcome of walking out on the field. They should know that in the last 20 years, 15,000 men have played in the NFL and less than 4% have played longer than 4 years.
This is a telling statistic because how many men can take the abuse for longer than 4 years? How many men have the skill to last longer than 4 years? Well, it si only about 652.
They should educate that 652 and tell them, this is what we know happens to a brain exposed to multiple concussions and big hits.
This is what happens to knees, backs and shoulders after too many games, hits and surgeries.
Educate the players and the American public on the effects of playing the game and then let those people potentially playing on Sundays make the decision to play on Sunday.