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Before we talk about football, let’s talk about common sense. Common sense says that the NFL’s revenue will shatter records (again) this year. Common sense says that the league will again captivate America for 22 weeks.
But the more we learn about football, about how it effects people’s lives, the more common sense asks us something else: Should we play this game? Should we even watch it?
By the time you read this, you’ll have seen an intriguing week one and agonized over your fantasy lineup. You might have noticed every field emblazoned with a shiny gold emblem that read, “Back to Football.”
Obviously, that logo could just be ringing in the new season, but it implies something more sinister. It’s telling us, get back to focusing on the game. Don’t talk about concussions or Ray Rice or Greg Hardy or stadium funding.
But we need to talk about those things. We need to ask ourselves if America’s Game is worth it. At least, we need to talk about the inconvenient truths that football presents if we consume it this much.
We need to talk about Chris Borland, a promising young linebacker who retired in March because he feared how football’s constant head trauma would affect his future mental health. We need to talk about Borland’s former teammate, Patrick Willis, who walked away in the prime of his Hall of Fame career for the same reasons.
We need to talk about Tyrell Cameron, who was a sophomore at Franklin Parish High School in Louisiana. He died last week after he took a hit to the head on a punt return. Then there’s Adrian Coxson, who retired from the Green Bay Packers in August; he had left training camp in an ambulance with a Grade 3 concussion.
“The next hit to my head could possibly kill me,” Coxson said. “My health is more important to me than the game of football.”
Football has potentially disastrous consequences unlike any other major American sport. The data doesn’t look good — on average, 12 high school players die every year. Tyrell Cameron is at least the 15th since 2013.
Players who survive the game are still scarred forever. Researchers at Boston University found signs of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the brains of 34 deceased former NFL players. CTE is caused by repeated head trauma, and it’s unusually common in football players.
CTE’s symptoms include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression and progressive dementia. You need to cut open someone’s brain to diagnose CTE, so we can’t know which living players and former players have it.
We can infer, though. Because aggression and impulse control are symptoms of CTE, there is growing speculation of a link between CTE and the domestic violence cases that are rocking the NFL.
In 2012, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend, drove to Arrowhead Stadium, and killed himself in front of his coaches. His brain tested positive for CTE, and he probably won’t be the last evidence of the link between violence and CTE.
The scary thing about Belcher is that he tested positive for CTE even though he had never had a recorded concussion. That proved that football players don’t get CTE from just the big hits, they get it from the small, jarring impacts that happen every play.
Therefore, the NFL’s attempts to legislate concussions out of the game — penalizing hitting a quarterback in the head, or hitting a receiver above the shoulders — are useless. You can’t ban hitting in football, so as long as we play football, players will get permanent brain damage, and the league will get the consequences that comes with it.
Despite the penalties, every NFL game still has big hits that concuss players. Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly suffered a scary head injury on Sunday when he tackled with his head.
Every time I’ve watched football lately, I’ve just prayed that injuries like Kuechly’s don’t happen to anyone. I pray that we don’t get another Dave Duerson or Junior Seau, whose brains tested positive for CTE after they killed themselves. We only know that because they shot themselves in the chest to preserve their brains for research. They knew how badly football messed them up, and they wanted the world to know, too.
Now the world does know, yet we can’t look away. In fact, we’re throwing even more money at football. The Minnesota Vikings are owned by a billionaire who was recently convicted of fraud, and the people of Minnesota are still giving their Vikings $500 million in public money toward the team’s $1 billion-plus new stadium. It’s absurd. We’re showering rich criminals in money for nicer places to watch our heroes pound each other into early graves.
And that’s the big problem. We won’t stop watching. We won’t stop buying Madden or going to games. We have every reason to cut football off, but we just don’t care.
Instead of talking about the real issues surrounding football, we fly into a moral outrage about PSI and cry about preserving the integrity of the game. But how much integrity does this game have left?
If we can accept everything that’s wrong with football and still watch it, then so be it. But we shouldn’t. At the very least, we should question our devotion to this game, ask ourselves if it’s worth it. Because the more we know, the more common sense tells us, “No, it’s not.”
Contact CU Independent Editorial Manager Tommy Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org