Award-winning Washington Post columnist George Will has given his opinion on where the sport of American football is heading, and it isn’t pretty:
…Football is entertainment in which the audience is expected to delight in gladiatorial action that a growing portion of the audience knows may cause the players degenerative brain disease. Not even football fans, a tribe not known for savoring nuance, can forever block that fact from their excited brains.
Furthermore, in this age of bubble-wrapped children, when parents put helmets on wee tricycle riders, many children are going to be steered away from youth football, diverting the flow of talent to the benefit of other sports.
In the NFL, especially, football is increasingly a spectacle, a game surrounded by manufactured frenzy, on the grass and in the increasingly unpleasant ambiance of the fans in the stands. Football on the field is a three-hour adrenaline-and-testosterone bath. For all its occasional elegance and beauty, it is basically violence for, among other purposes, inflicting intimidating pain. (Seau said his job was “to inflict pain on my opponent and have him quit.”) (George Will, “George Will: Safer football is a fantasy”, postbulletin.com, 7/6/12)
Whether you agree with Will’s position or not, you cannot deny the recent tragedies surrounding former NFL greats and the eerie connection those deaths have to playing the sport they loved.
Despite advancements in helmet technology and the increasing rules, imposed at both the college and professional level, put in place to protect those who would be on the other side of the most vicious of hits, football remains a sport where serious injuries happen. That said, how many current players are worried about their play long-term health? Many of them are too busy living in the moment to be concerned with whether or not they’ll be around at 50 or 60 years of age.
They aren’t thinking about Ray Easterlings or Junior Seau because that would force them to change the style of play that got them the recognition in the first place.
On the other hand, what about Will’s question about the “bubble-wrap” children? Will their parents be as willing to let them play the game of football knowing the potential consequences? Will the reward outweigh the risk for them?
As a football fan myself, I appreciate the game in all it’s forms, but as a mother I’m not willing to let my son play the sport because it’s become too dangerous even at his age of seven; I fall into that group Will points out that has willingly steered their children away from the game and into a safer alternative—and I don’t apologize for having done so.
In any event, despite my overprotective mothering and the escalating evidence that football could potentially be the catalyst behind the deaths of some of its most beloved players, I have no doubt that the sport will continue to thrive so long as it’s glorified and loved as it is today.
It’s not going anywhere, anytime soon, and I don’t know that attempts to make it safer will do anything more than water down the product and kill the competitive natures that make it so popular in the first place.
Football is a violent game—much like hockey, mixed martial arts, boxing, extreme sports, motorsports, etc.—but it’s the game men choose to play and we choose to watch and I don’t see that changing.