Thursday, May 3, 2012

What May 3rd Means To Me: Concussions, the NFL, and my birthday

Wanted to touch on the Junior Seau tragedy, and how it affects football's possible future, because this is becoming an increasingly dicey situation.  Player safety has been at the forefront of football conversation as, with each passing day, we're learning more and more about how concussions/brain trauma hinder a football player's post-career life, and it ain't pretty.  And though we don't know the exact reason's behind Seau's suicide, many will connect his depression to the injuries he suffered during his career, which is a growing trend among ex-players.

Guys like Malcolm Gladwell and Tyler Cowen wrote very eloquent articles which suggest these injuries will ultimately be football's demise, and though I personally cannot imagine an American landscape without football, I can no longer disagree with them fully.  Here are some thoughts circling in my head:

1) In regards to suicide possibly related to football injuries, we're still only talking about a handful of people
2) Knowing the risks of football, people will still play. (people still box, after all).
3) There's no way to make football "safe"
4) The NFL is a money giant, though I'm not sure how future lawsuits will affect the health of the league.
5) Will parents let their kids play football?

Football is, by far, America's most popular sport, and probably America's most popular form of entertainment, so I cannot imagine it'll be obsolete in ten years like Cowen suggests.  Gladwell mentions a possible correlation with boxing, but I'm not sure boxing's demise has as much to do with brain injuries as it does corruption, lack of engaging personality within the sport, and the gradual and powerful rise of the NFL and NBA. However, will the NFL be marginalized in 20-25 years time?  Maybe. This rests on the future generation's desire to play football and whether or not parents will forbid it.  With this in mind, I'd love to see statistics on how injuries affect kids who ended their career at the high school level, and another study about athletes who only played through college.  Is this a football wide problem or just an NFL problem? 

Another fact that must be remembered is that people generally ignore warnings when it comes to possible health risks in the distant future (except when it comes to nuclear energy...we're deathly afraid of that!)  Look no further than smoking and drinking for proof.  There's a cognitive dissonance (I think I've used this term in two straight blog posts!) that accompanies risks like this, mostly because, in this case, there's also plenty of ex-football players who are perfectly healthy.  I assume many will think, "it won't happen to me!"   Not to mention, football is still an embedded culture in many parts of the country and also provides a "way out" for some.  I can't imagine this being undone for a while, especially when there's such a strong support system for the sport. 

Having said all that, I will concede that the future of football now has a flicker of doubt, and it'll be interesting to see the first few dominoes to fall.  My best guess is the end of Pop Warner leagues, which will be replaced with some sort of flag football program.  Kids probably don't need to tackle before the high school level and probably aren't being taught how to properly tackle anyway.  Perhaps in 2050, the American soccer program will see the true benefits of this, as many kids who once would have played football will now gravitate towards other sports. 


Oh, and it's my birthday. Hooray!

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