Tragic events can bring about some extreme thinking. Knee jerk reactions are easy to succumb to but are too often the easy way out of a situation that just requires some critical thinking. The suicide of Junior Seau is no different. Less than a week after Seau’s death, a member of the Baltimore Ravens (TCSFB) has come out with a typically well thought out statement. Bernard Pollard has predicted that, because of the concussions, the NFL will be extinct in twenty to thirty years. Note to Pollard: Let your asterisk loving head coach, John Harbaugh, do all of the heavy thinking. I believe it was the great American, John Facenda, who said “Football is a game for the ages.” The ages, Bernie…..
All joking aside, there is a head injury epidemic in the NFL and it has to be addressed now. Here is a fun factoid for you: In 1905 eighteen college and amateur players died from football related injuries. So, using that statistic, you could argue that the game is safer now than ever. That is a solid position to take if your only indicator of quality of life is that any life is better than death. We should really demand more of this exhibition of force and speed that is placed on display purely for our enjoyment. There is nothing very glamorous about hobbled, mentally impaired, pseudo warriors.
The NFL is a product and by all standards it’s a hell of a product. It has overtaken all other sports to become America’s game. The popularity of other sports like NASCAR and the NBA has little peaks and valleys but the NFL keeps growing. The league has not had a ‘New Coke’ moment so far. The Super Bowl was watched by one hundred eleven million people last year (I can’t even correctly write that in numerals). The NFL has made its product easier and more fun to watch. Ten zillion (actual number may be less) camera angles, jumbo trons, and even the in game interview have brought the fan closer to the player. Rule changes to up the scoring have enticed more and more viewers to their sets on Sundays, Mondays, Thursdays, and the occasional Saturday. The consumer electronic industry relies heavily on the NFL to help sell its gadgetry. You know you’re only seeing half the game without the newest Sony doodad. Jim Nantz and Peyton Manning just told you!! But unlike other colorful and violent things that you consume via the television, there are no stunt men or stand ins for these guys. No CGI magic is making that hit look more violent. That hit you just saw really was that violent and the next one will be too. Steeler Nation is full of folk lore and mythology. We all remember what fierce tacklers Jack Lambert, and Jack Ham were, right? They took guys heads off on every play, man! Well, if you go back in time (or You Tube) you will see that Ham and Lambert were skillful tacklers. They, along with the rest of the Steelers defense of the 70’s, were fundamentally sound, wrap ‘em up, put ‘em down textbook type tacklers. Good thing too. Those fellas played with half the padding on their bodies and ill fitting brain buckets on their heads than do modern players. Most of those tackles were made on astro turf, essentially 3/8 of an inch of carpet laid over asphalt. No wonder it took Joe Greene an entire day just to get out of bed following a game. Good times!
The medical field is stepping up its game too. Advances in neuromedicine have made diagnosing closed head injuries easier and more accurate. And while the old “how many fingers am I holding up” test is still part of the sideline assessment, it is no longer the gold standard. Memory loss, mood swings, depression and chronic headaches are all symptoms of post concussion syndrome and more players are feeling its effects. When former defensive back, Dave Duerson committed suicide last year, he shot himself in the chest so that his brain could be examined for signs of serial concussions and their possible effect on him. Junior Seau also shot himself in the chest. If it is to be believed that both of these men took their own lives in a manner that would allow science to make the game they loved safer for player in the future, it shows amazing clarity even in their darkest moments. The NFL will have to protect its players moving forward if it wants to keep growing its product. It will have to look into forward thinking helmet manufacturers and rule changes to assure quality of life after football. The league may have to intervene on behalf of concussed players by ending their season if they are diagnosed with a head injury even if it means that the league, instead of the team, picks up that player’s salary. The NFL is filthy with money right now because of the quality of product AND because of the quality of player on the field. Roger Goodell has recently suspended players without pay for participating in a bounty program. Goodell could, by the grace of his unfettered hand, suspend a player WITH pay until that player is deemed free of concussion symptoms. He has that degree of power now let’s see if he will step up and use it to preserve the integrity of the game. No extinction necessary. The ages, Bernie…..