I used to have a fair amount to say about football. I come from a family of football fans. I was raised in a football state. I had strong opinions about the Bowl Championship Series and its “
championship” pointless final game.
I had a UT cheerleader outfit as a toddler. I was chastised for not spending enough time talking to relatives one Thanksgiving while Dallas played Washington. I was a Dallas fan even in 1989 when they went 1-15. When they won another Super Bowl, I wallpapered my car windows (!) with cutouts from the Dallas Morning News a family friend mailed us.
So I’m not a fair-weathered fan. I’m not a woman who requires pink shit and glitter earrings to pique my interest and pay attention. (I don’t blame the NFL for going after female fans; too bad it’s in such a pandering and paternalistic manner.) I never considered myself a female fan. I was just a fan.
It’s just not as much fun to watch as it used to be. The NFL can (and will) dodge responsibility for as long as they can but evidence about what is happening to football players’ bodies (brains, specifically) is only growing. I know too much now. When I watch games, it’s with a constant sense of unease. “When will the next guy stay down after a tough hit?”
The violence of the game is, to some degree, why Americans love it. Brute strength and testosterone and showmanship and GO TEAM. These guys do what we cannot and they get paid ridiculous sums for their talent. The money, though, doesn’t negate my guilt about having made them into the bulls.
This piece by Roxanne Jones (formerly of ESPN) therefore really resonated with me.
I want to save my relationship with the league but it needs to own up about CTE.
Stop endlessly denying the findings of medical science that say playing football can cause permanent brain damage. End the lies. Just admit we have a problem. That is the first step.
Sadly, as Betsy has noted, the NFL is instead intent on blaming the victim in the yuckiest of CYA measures. It’s not our fault; it’s THEIR fault. Somehow.*
I will concede one point: It’s not SOLELY the NFL’s fault. As Frank Deford put it,
But here is that larger truth so many people are avoiding: It’s not just NFL football that is dangerous. If professional players, through the years, have suffered injuries — especially to their brains — players have also suffered football concussions in college, in high school and all the way down to youth football. In fact, of the nearly 5 million adolescents playing football below the college level, it’s estimated that half have sustained concussions, a third of them on multiple occasions — and the human brain is not fully developed until the mid-20s.
Furthermore, perhaps more could and should be done at a legislative level (not today, you understand; we need government open for business first). Again, Deford (from 2007):
Imagine, if you will, that in the last decade, 186 men who had played major league baseball died before they were 50 years old. Imagine that in that same time, 435 men who had played in the NFL likewise died before they were 50.
If this were so, Congress would probably have dropped discussing everything short of terrorism to investigate. Cable television would talk of nothing else. The sports would be decried from the pulpits.
He was using wrestling’s numbers, extrapolated out over the number of players in the MLB and NFL. That particular piece focused on steroids and not CTE, though I think by now we’re aware of the risk wrestlers are facing with their own head injuries. The metaphor still works.
We need to do something, even if that’s pushing for action on a number of levels. Meanwhile–no, football, you cannot have my son. A final and similar thought from Deford…
…an old NFL star who suffered a few concussions asks me: “How many mothers would let their boys play football if we knew what concussions could mean when these boys get older?”
* This is why I’m so disgusted by NFL’s pinkwashing every October. They don’t give a damn about their own players’ brains; I don’t believe for a minute that they give a damn about their own players’ wives’ (or anyone else’s) boobs. Nope, just like everything else, it’s just a way to monetize an illness. Again: yucky. (Edited to add this. Just sayin’.)