Home Social Issues Knowing What It’s Doing To Players, Can You Keep Enjoying Football?

Knowing What It’s Doing To Players, Can You Keep Enjoying Football?

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traingingcamp7-27 072Two of my favorite players to watch when I was a kid, Junior Seau & Dave Duerson, have now shot themselves in the chest to preserve their brains for study. I’m sad they’re gone, but have great respect for their willingness to suffer one last time to in hopes of protecting future players from having their brains similarly destroyed by a life of football.

The more we learn about how football damages players’ brains, the more troubling it is for me as a fan. Researchers say it’s not a handful of rare hits – the ones the NFL tries to limit with penalties & punishments – that cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy. It’s the accumulation of constant mid-level impacts – the every-snap crash of offensive & defensive linemen, a linebacker making a crunching tackle on a running back. Progressive columnist Charlie Pierce made a compelling case on ESPN’s Grantland just last week in the wake of former NFL player Ray Easterling’s suicide:

We ought not to allow people to be destroyed – either all at once, or one concussion at a time – for our amusement. Doing so makes us amoral. Hell, it makes us vampires. We ought to demand that the people who run our sports take better care of the lives and health of our fellow citizens that those industries employ. […]

There will be people who maintain that NFL players signed on to be cogs in a machine when they signed their initial contracts. There is a libertarian argument that will be made about allowing people to take their own risks with their own bodies. There will be some boohooing about the involvement of “politics” in our entertainment. Standing against these concerns is the simple fact that we all owe each other a debt as members of a political and social commonwealth not to profit from the pain and suffering of each other, no matter who inflicts it or how accidental or deliberate that might be. It is time to regard our individual complicity in the circumstances that we allow to produce what happened to someone like Ray Easterling with a far more jaundiced eye than we ever have. You can enjoy football if you wish. I do. But I can’t enjoy it blindly any more. I can’t enjoy it with a clear conscience.

Some of the blows to the head can be coached away with proper tackling technique. But I haven’t heard anyone say the head blows can be eliminated entirely – and with even college players dying with CTE, clearly the effects can arrive early & overwhelmingly. I’m not saying this is an issue that should be legislated – but considering how ready the Virginia General Assembly stands to regulate other aspects of our lives, how can they justify turning a blind eye to Virginia football players like William & Mary alumni Lou Creekmur dying with CTE?

Can you keep watching football? Will you let your kids play organized football? What about pro wrestling, where the late Chris Benoit & Andrew “Test” Martin were both found to have CTE? Or hockey fights, where “enforcers” Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien & Wade Belak died in the wake of diagnosed or suspected CTE?

  • and it sure didn’t stop them from packing the coliseums. How much has changed since then?  Well, now we watch on TV, the players (usually) don’t die, and there’s probably a lot more money involved overall. Other than that, it’s still “bread and circuses,” which people love, and no matter what they find out about the consequences, I strongly doubt it will turn them off of football, hockey, boxing, whatever.

  • aznew

    First off, my heart goes out to Junior Seau’s family and friends.

    But look, in life we all take risks. Football and hockey players take risks with their bodies — true enough — but in exchange for riches and admiration in society that most of us can only dream about.

    Actually, that seems like a rational choice to me. I don’t know if I would make it, knowing all the facts, but I might. What might I give up to know what it really, truly feels like to throw a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl, or hit a game-winning home run ion the World Series?

    But Pierce cites the simple fact that

    we all owe each other a debt as members of a political and social commonwealth not to profit from the pain and suffering of each other, no matter who inflicts it or how accidental or deliberate that might be. It is time to regard our individual complicity in the circumstances that we allow to produce what happened to someone like Ray Easterling with a far more jaundiced eye than we ever have. You can enjoy football if you wish. I do. But I can’t enjoy it blindly any more. I can’t enjoy it with a clear conscience.

    Fair enough, but if we’re going to go there, why limit it to football players? For as long as I’ve listened to music, self destructive behavior has been a part of rock and roll. Ever notice the difficulty child actors have in life. Oops, should I feel guilty because I think Paper Moon or Taxi Driver were great films?

    Indeed, now I find myself thinking about poor Charles Pierce, one of the best Progressive writers working in America today. I enjoy reading him, but he has chosen a career as a writer — a sedentary lifestyle spent behind a desk that medical science tells us increases the chance for obesity, high cholesterol, heart disease and numerous other maladies. Can I enjoy his writing again, knowing that he is probably taking years off his life in producing it?

    Look, life and freedom are all about choices — risks and benefits, assets and liabilities, ying and yang, Abbot and Costello. Pierce may pooh-pooh this as just more Libertarian claptrap, but it’s true. I was a fan of Junior Seau as well as a player, and suicide it a tragedy whenever it occurs, whether it is a former professional athlete or just an average person. And the causes are ALWAYS more complicated than simply “he damaged his brain playing football,” or “she was unhappy over a break-up,” or whatever.

    By all means, we should feel sad about the loss of a young man like Junior Seau. And we should take steps to make sure that the risks people take — whether they are football players, rock stars or progressive writers — are calculated, minimized in accordance with science and common sense, and fully-understood by the people who take them — or at least as understood as our state of knowledge allows at any given time.

    But lets not overact and turn into fun police that drain enjoyment out of life.

    So, in answer to Miles’ question, I can keep enjoying football. And music. And Pierce.