Football is the most popular sport in this country. The National Football League is a $9 billion industry and its popularity continues to rise. To complain about the violent nature of the game can border on heresy. But a major issue has arisen that cannot be ignored. Concussions have become endemic to the sport and current research shows an alarming rate of brain damage to former players. Is the game becoming too dangerous for its own good?
In the past two decades it has come to light that the pounding on players’ heads is causing major issues soon after the athletes’ careers are over. Chronic headaches, mood changes, dementia and suicide have become the norm among many retired players. In the old days it was considered a rite of passage to have your “bell rung” and then show how “tough” you were by getting back into the game without delay.
Nothing exhibited your “manhood” more than playing hurt. You could have a separated shoulder or a herniated disc and still not come out of a game. The last thing a player wanted to do was show he was “weak.” Health was for “sissies.” If you suffered a concussion and didn’t know where you were you would still want to go back into the game. Coaches encouraged that attitude and players wore it as a badge of honor.
It’s bad enough to see retired players walking around as cripples with broken fingers, blown-out knees, and chronic back pain because of the natural brutality of the sport. Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi once said that football was not a “contact” sport but a “collision” sport. Players knew the inherent risks and were willing to put up with them. The typical pro whined about any rules changes to make the sport safer.