Civil Discourse Now

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Football should be banned as an organized "school" sport.

   When I thought about a title for this blog yesterday, I thought "the time has come to seriously consider..." Then I realized, the time is now.

   I have been a fan of football. I like to watch college and professional games. My Division III alma mater plays our foe each year in the Monon Bell Game, the oldest rivalry west of the Allegheny Mountains. I grew up watching the Chicago Bears each Sunday. The only World Championship of a sports teams, of which I have been a lifelong fan, to occur was the Bears' Super Bowl in 1986. I did not play football, for several reasons. First, I was too little. When 7th grade practices began (the first year of organized play at that time in our area), I weighed 62 pounds. I was not exactly offensive line material. Second, the practices seemed sadistic. Guys would talk about the hell of three-a-day practices in August during which they sucked on salt tablets to conserve water (as opposed to open access to frequent/as needed water breaks). Finally, my mother, was who was registered nurse, thought football was too dangerous. Her veto could have been overridden, but everything considered, I took a pass, as it were, on football.

   Football is a contact sport. That means something more than there "might" be contact on a play, as in basketball, where a foul is to be called on contact, but physical shoves, etc., occur. That means something more than what occurs in baseball, where an occasional "bean ball" is tossed, the pitcher thrown out of the game, and both benches fined for the brawl that ensued the pitch and the batter being struck. In football, on every play, the linemen launch themselves at each other. The quarterback is an obvious target, but so, too, are the running backs and receivers. The defensive players are on the other side of those hits. 

   Last year there was a lot of concern expressed about concussions, because several quarterbacks had been put out of games by concussions. Then Junior Seau committed suicide. Other players died from long-term brain injuries.

    3.5 million kids between the ages of six and thirteen play football in this country. "Concussion Study Makes Case for Reducing Contact Drills for Youth Players," New York Times, 7/25/13. Last fall, in a peewee football league game in Southbridge, Massachusetts, three kids were carried off the field with concussions when their team lost in a 52-0 rout. Hitting is encouraged. As one writer has noted, "the tapestry of physical grace and brute strength at the heart of football is the more perfect distillation of our national essence" than baseball.  "On Super Bowl Sunday, Nachos, Beer and Bashed Brains," Huff Post, 2/3/13. A study issued by the Cleveland Clinic followed 67 college football players over the course of the 2011 season. "Although none of the players experienced concussions, blood tests showed that the five players who absorbed the hardest hits had elevated levels of an antibody linked to brain damage."  "New Research Points to Brain Injuries in College Football, "Bloomburg Busibessweek," 3/6/13. The same article points out "evidence of chronic traumatic enceplalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain disease that causes dementia and depression, was found in several former pro players, including some who committed suicide. The Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University later found the disease in 34 of 35 former NFL players examined."

   Out of all those millions of kids who play football, only a small percentage will receive offers of college scholarships, the carrot for many of the players. Out of the thousands who play college football, fewer still become players in the NFL. Thirty-two (32) teams times however many are on the roster (56?) for each. And sure, a base NFL salary is in six figures, but an average career only is three years long.

   There is a concept in law called assumption of risk. That means when one is aware of the risks of an activity, and one proceeds to engage in that activity, one is responsible any her or his injuries that may result. The warning signs at a ballpark for "objects leaving the field" is an example of explanation of risks, and the fans sitting in the seats and watching the game is an example of their voluntary assumption of the risk of injury. When people played football in the 1950s and on, they knew they could break a leg or an arm. A kid in my class broke a leg in a game. No one explained about the long-term effects on those kids' brains. Besides, a 12-year-old kid is not old enough to make a decision to assume such a risk. Only recently were we made aware of the long-term risks of increased occurrence of ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and other such Central Nervous System (CNS) maladies to football players. No one could assume this risk, of which they were unaware.

   At the same time, colleges rake in a lot of cash through football. Players receive scholarships---and then what? They suffer lifelong debilitation and maybe---maybe---receive a bachelor's degree. The NFL makes billions---that's with a "b"---while their players earn six figure incomes---yeah, some earn a lot more, but the grunt in the trenches is the one who makes room for the salary-cap jockeying for high-profile players.

   Finally, what other country instills in its youth violence at such an early age through encouragement of participation in such a violent game? High school chants of "Blood makes the grass grow!" are not uncommon. This societal violence is not limited to the players (who, more often it seems lately, get into scrapes with the law), but spreads to the fans. Little kids try to emulate their heroes, and replay hard hits. When a society programs violence into its children, it only can expect greater manifestations of violence at later ages of its population. For now, pro players have committed themselves. They can choose. But they should receive a lot of compensation from owners---whose operations we subsidize with taxes.

   We should ban football in schools---junior high (or do they call it "middle school" now?), high school, and college. I am going to find it difficult this year, but I will try to avoid watching da Bears and the Colts. There's always post-season baseball---right. I'm a fan of the Chicago Cubs National League Baseball Club. Well, there's always next year.



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