Now we are starting to hear about a new movie starring Will Smith called “Concussion”, regarding a doctor’s findings and subsequent interaction with the NFL regarding the concussion issue. Obviously this is a serious issue, but I’m continually hearing only one side of the story on this issue. Here is the other side.
To begin with, a tiny percentage of individuals who play football in the US end up playing pro or for that matter D1 football. These are young adults who make the choice to accept a college scholarship or a pro contract to play the game and are aware of the risks of all types of injuries that accompany their choice. Certainly the old timers, who played with nowhere near the quality of gear available now, knew in their day that injuries occurred in their sport, yet they loved playing, loved the money, the lifestyle and the notoriety and chose to make their living from the game. If they didn’t realize that banging their heads into their opponents heads was not the healthiest thing in the world to do, I feel bad for them.
Now many of these players in their fifties and sixties are paying the price and feel the NFL owes them for their travails over and above the pension and other perks due them. Here’s my question; who’s taking care of the UPS man whose knees, shoulders, spine, etc. are ruined from 30 years of working the truck, the construction guys whose lungs are shot from breathing in soot and dust and god knows what else on active construction sites, and the computer tech whose back and neck are shot from sitting his fat ass on a chair and working over a computer for 30 years (like me, although my ass is not fat). Bottom line, any one of these individuals working in these other professions (including me) would have given their right arm to be a pro football player and certainly would be a helluva lot better off financially as well. Aging leads to injuries and illness for all of us, not just pro football players.
Now let’s get to the other side of the story. All the radio pundits, including the local ESPN hotshots, are speculating on air if they would let their kids play football. Why not soccer, baseball or basketball, sports with less chance of concussions occurring? First off, let’s see the stats, I have friends whose children incurred concussions from soccer and a friend of a friend’s child who died when getting hit in the chest by a pitched hardball. I myself suffered a serious concussion getting run over at 3rd base in a COED softball game. When after the play, I asked my teammate what position I played he said don’t worry, next thing I know I was taken by ambulance to the local hospital. Maybe this diatribe does not show it, but most of my brains are intact and this was not the only concussion I incurred playing non-football sports.
What these brilliant commentators are missing is the huge upside of football versus other sports. To begin with, football is way more inclusive; thirty or forty kids participate in a game between offense, defense and special teams, as compared to 1/3 to 1/2 of this amount in the other sports. Also football is available to a myriad of skill sets, meaning if you can run fast you might be a back or defensive back, if you have great hands a wide receiver, if you can throw a QB, and most importantly, if perhaps you’re not exceptionally athletic but have size and desire, the line is the perfect place.
Slow, fat kids aren’t finding a spot on the soccer field or basketball court . We’ve been selling football gear for thirty years, I can’t tell you how many shy, unathletic, overweight ten year olds have found their place on the field and developed skill, discipline and determination (and gotten in great shape) which have served them well in all their endeavors. In addition, as many of these kids are from less than ideal familial and economic conditions, their football coaches play a very important role in getting and keeping them on the right track.
So here’s the bottom line. We can feel bad for what occurred to Dave Duerson and Junior Seau, but must keep in mind that they chose to play the sport at the most demanding and vicious level, and were well compensated for doing so. We should also feel bad for the taxi driver who worked seventy hours a week to support his family but got killed by a drunk driver, my guess is given the choice, he would have preferred to be a pro football player.
Efforts should continue to make the game as safe as possible, but as in all sports, there will always be the risk of injury. I’m sick and tired of hearing the privileged, haughty sports pundits (and President Obama) telling us they wouldn’t let their kids play football. They are overlooking the tremendous benefits the sport offers, especially to kids in difficult social and economic straits, who perhaps do not have the athletic profile to succeed in other sports.