When Football Comes To Town

I’ve turned the sporting world on its head in 2016.  After years of watching football each year I’ve slowly watched less and less to the point I viewed maybe three games in 2016 catching one from start to finish.  The old me would take in a full game at least once a week.  I can’t help but raise some questions.

The questions I have with the sport are philosophical, mental and economical but they are all things that I wrestle with.  I never played, something that at one time I wished I had but as time goes on I’m pretty thankful that I chickened out when the football coach told me I would make a pretty good linebacker.  I think he was drunk when the 140-pound-me was sitting in the lunch room of my high school as he told me I could play.

Yes I’d be awesome as a sled dummy.  Please just run me over.  This was before the days of Will Smith’s “Concussion” and the recognition by the medical community. As well as the family of retired players that blows to the head can cause serious long term damage.  The NFL however, sees dollar signs instead of stop signs and wants whatever cash deliveries it can get – health be damned!

Damned if I’m convinced that they even care about the players feelings either.  One week a player can wear pink shoes to support a worthy cause but the next week their cleats memorialize a respected fallen journalist and that’s a 15K fine.  Nah.  It shouldn’t work that way. Meanwhile guys are jumping into huge vats with the Salvation Army logo on them and that is okay.  Guys are beating their girlfriends and wives, guys are driving drunk, guys are walking around with illegal loaded weapons, guys are doing drugs and making complete asses of themselves.  But we don’t suppose a wide receiver should pay tribute to a man who tried his best to fight leukemia, a disease that we still don’t have a cure for – even though we throw so much money at wars.  Can someone please explain why we can’t cure diseases?

We would still rather fine individuals for protesting or memorializing those who tried to make people’s lives better.  It’s become a circus run by a ring master who is propped up in a bigtop of low to middle class individuals.  The more that these individuals watch, buy and attend these games the more this drama will continue.  The more that these players will get screwed.

In a 2016 Wall Street Journal article, a study showed that the average NFL career is 2 and a half years.  Imagine the punishment these players have taken their WHOLE lives.  Now think about the fact that if these guys come into the league as rookies, they aren’t making millions and millions, and if they get hurt they have to come to a settlement with the team. Can you imagine you’ve spent your entire life training and doing everything to work this job.  What if that is the only skill you have?  What if this job scrambled your brain because of all the hits you took?  The NFL doesn’t care because you weren’t there long enough to matter.  The NFL doesn’t care because it accept the CTE findings.

The January 2017 edition of GQ includes a story about a former Iowa high school football player, Zac Easter, who gave his life for football.  He grew up in a football family, his father was a small college coach, and his two brothers played the game.  He wasn’t the most talented kid but he would never stop moving like that bunny in the battery commercial. Many times he said he got his bell run but he just got right back up – this was before the CTE diagnosis and the focus on pulling kids out when there was even a hint of a concussion.  Through his high school career he had three confirmed concussions before the team doctor forced him to quit his senior season.  Who knows how many he had during practice or when he simply fought the diagnosis because he wanted to go back in and play defense as the star linebacker.

After graduation he struggled with headaches, memory loss and depression.  Zac was convinced he had CTE after reading about it and kept a journal detailing the pain that he experienced.  He also left a semi-last will explaining that he wanted his brain to be left for science so it could be studied to see if he truly had CTE.  He wanted his family to share his story as a warning of what concussions can do.  The power of the first hand account can be haunting but especially so in Zac’s case.

When Zac couldn’t take it anymore he took his own life – something that his family doesn’t understand.  His father drinks to ease the pain, refusing to take counseling and his mother wants to find something to help others.  But what is there?  Ban football?  Not going to happen.  Make kids wait to play?  Kids will not wait to play.  New equipment? This hasn’t stopped anything.  We’ve seen players evolve over the years to become bigger and stronger and faster.  Each year players try to get an edge over the other.  There is a fine line that unfortunately I think we’ve crossed over and I don’t think we’ll get back.

Some would argue that they are adults and they know the risks, but the players start as children and by the time CTE sets in they may as well be children again.  It’s an extremely difficult decision to wrestle with.  But I don’t believe I can do it anymore. There are way too many people who spend their lives with mental problems because of this game that never get help.  We don’t know how to help them.  Is it worth it?  It’s up to us to decide.  Wise men once said “Cash rules everything around me.”  As I grow older I can’t help see this never stops being the case.

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