Sunday, October 24, 2010

Head Games

From Friday:

I’m headed to a high school football game tonight, and the sports talk chatter all week has been about dangerous hits to the head in the professional game causing long-term damage to players.   When the game begins tonight, I will probably not give this issue a second thought.  I will become caught up in the frenzied mob mentality supporting my chosen team.  In the hours before kickoff, however, I wonder if I should be more worried about the health of the 14-18 year old boys who are trained to separate the opponent from the ball by any means necessary.

I love watching football, although I do not enjoy going to games.  Football is perfect for television.  The huddle time between plays allow ample time to dissect the previous action through the miracle that is instant replay.  The fall/winter weather lends itself to sitting indoors and overeating comfort foods, like hot chili and thick crust pizza.  The price of watching on TV is significantly lower than buying a ticket, and the bathroom accommodations are far superior to any stadium parking lot Port-O-John.  The violence of the game, it seems to me, is best enjoyed from behind the safe buffer zone of an HD TV, listening to commentary by men wearing jackets and ties describing the pain delivered on the field.  Do we have to watch Joe Theismann's leg being snapped in pieces one more time?

I don’t know how you eliminate the violent impacts and the potential for injury from the game.  Frankly, I’m not sure you can, short of playing flag football or two-hand touch instead.  Not sure the ratings would hold up for a league where hitting is frowned upon.  Even hockey can’t outlaw fighting from their games.  That would be bad business, and the NFL is a business - a big one.

You could continue to improve the safety of the equipment worn by players, but this can have the unintended consequence of allowing players to feel completely safe and indestructible, causing them to take even greater risks on the field.    

The pain in the games is real, however, as much as I would prefer to ignore it. As long as players are taught to crush, take the heart of, kill, and/or destroy the opposing team, this is a problem that will never be solved, and we will never agree on how much violence is too much, or just enough.  Players choose to play, and maybe those that do not suffer brain injuries actually learn some important life skills, like teamwork, sacrifice, leadership, and the proper application of ice and heat.  So let 'em play.  To borrow a phrase from another major sport, "I love this game!"

Postscript:  Chantilly won, 17-14 on 17 unanswered points in the 4th quarter.  I enjoyed every hit, and the kids on the field seemed to enjoy the hitting even more.  It might have been more dangerous in the stands.  Some kids had hot chocolate poured on them when visiting the opposing fans in the stands. 

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