12 November 2012

Should Football Die?

 Since this is a rather serious post for me--I thought I'd preface it with a picture of the one athlete I'll always be a fan of. 
Let me preface this all by saying that I'm not a sports fan. Never have been, and I doubt I ever will be. If I were to pay money to attend any kind of sports would be baseball. However, I recently came across this article in the December issue of Reader's Digest, and it reminded me of some ideas my Sports History professor had talked about in class. I recommend reading the article if you're interested in the subject, but the gist of it is that a professional sportswriter is swearing off watching football because, after years of being so close to the football world, he's seen way too much of what the hits that players take do to their lives in the long-term. In spite of all the padding and protection, football players often get serious injuries--and what specifically concerned that sportswriter--serious brain injuries that sometimes don't allow them to lead normal, healthy lives after they retire from the game.

I emailed the article to my old professor, because I knew he was a lifelong football fan, though in class he had talked about his outrageous theory that the days of American football are numbered due to our greater awareness of what the sport does to players' brains. I got a reply back from him saying that he'd made the exact same decision this fall: that he would not watch football anymore. I was surprised by this--you have to know that he's a major sports fan in general if he's going to teach a college course on the history of sports, and I knew that he genuinely loved 'his' football team--the one from his home state that he still rooted for, years after he'd moved away and lived in other states and countries. My prof said that a big part of the turning point for him was finding out that Jim McMahon, one of his most adored players from the 80s, was now in his early 50s and had dementia.

I find this very interesting. Football is on the TV of a good number of American homes every Thanksgiving Day. Superbowl Sunday is practically a national holiday. Now, for the first time I'm hearing about genuine fans of the game deciding that they can no longer support the football world, because of the tremendous toll football takes on athletes' brains.

 I'll be the first to admit that I haven't researched the subject. I don't know a wide variety of specific cases of professional players who  have been hurt by the game or exactly how concussions damage the body. I don't even know the names of any current football players. Like I said, I'm not a fan. But I find it very strange that American society and culture is most known for idolizing a sport that has the power to ruin the lives of its players. Athletes get hurt in every sport, I understand that. However, football really seems like the most widely popular sport where athlete's heads are specifically put in such extensive danger.

I've now come across two former fans of the game who chose to stop watching it because of what happens to football players. I wonder how many fans think about that issue. My professor phrased it well in his email to me:

"It hit me that I--and other football fans--are somehow complicit in the brain damage that these former players are now suffering. We had cheered for them when they were healthy. We can't just shrug our shoulders and feel a little sad that they are losing their minds 25 years later."

What do you think about the dilemma of football? Fans, non-fans, relatives of fans alike, I'd like to hear from you!


  1. I think it's terrible that they can suffer such consequences from playing the sport they love...but at the same time, they're choosing to play it and they're choosing to take those risks. I think it's kind of silly to quit "supporting" or watching a game just because the players may get injured or have permanent damage when they retire. There are risks with a lot of things in life - if they don't want to take that risk, they don't have to play! :)

  2. I can see what you're saying and I think it's honorable of the two people who decided to quit watching it. It seems barbaric, in a way, to enjoy a sport that can lead to such damage, when you think about it like that. But, too, I agree with Angi in that the players choose to play. BTW, I'm not a football fan.

  3. I am not really a sports fan, but my best friend is, so I have watched many games along side her. I kind of agree with Angi that they are agreeing to take risks. But at the same time, we are telling them to take those risks for our entertainment and for money and for fame. That is probably why people are now refusing to watch.

  4. It's funny a few weeks back I actually happened to catch a great story on NPR about a young man who ended up paralyzed (a quadriplegic I believe) after being injured playing football. Personally, I'm an avid, football lover, but at the same time if I had a child, I'm not certain I would want them signing up to play.

    In fact my college (UNCC) JUST got our football team because one of the founding members had a son who died (or was horribly injured) playing a contact sport, so she vowed that as long as she lived there would be no contact sports permitted at UNCC. As soon as she passed, they were already building the football stadium...Sad.

  5. I've seen 8-9 year old children in league football playing because the parents want them there. 8-18 years of age a brain is still developing. I hope high school football players and parents don't prioritize a football scholarship over brain development or risk getting brain damage. Oh well, I've disliked football since high school because of the culture that's involved around it and now because it raises my insurance premiums :) - Angel

  6. haha, love the picture of angel :) (and I LOVE that he commented on your blog too! yay for blog-supportive husbands!)
    I'm pretty indifferent towards most sports. What I don't like about the football is how mean the fans can get. call is passion or whatever, but people can get really aggressive about THEIR team and take it out verbally on the person walking by who has a different team's sweater on...
    cant we all just get along?

  7. I'm not really a fan of the sport & would never want my son to play it after seeing several of my friends get numerous concussions from this game & have permanent injuries. I do welcome a good tennis match though :)

  8. I love love love watching football! I feel horribly for the older generations of players who had no idea what they were doing to themselves. Players these days are a lot more informed about the risks, and there are rules and gear made specifically to protect them as much as possible. When it comes down to it there are a lot of sports out there that are just as risky, if not more so, than football and the players will continue to keep on playing despite those risks.

  9. Im not really a great fan of sports, but i will say that the risks they take are incredible, but they are choosing to take them. You don't have to be a football player, actually most don't make to PRO but i get where you are coming from and believe me sometimes while watching it i hurt for them. I feel the same way about UFC!

  10. I'm absolutely NOT a sports fan, and I can't stand to watch football. I've heard a few stories about football causing brain damage and allegedly "causing" some players to commit suicide. It's really sad. I don't know that I agree with letting football die, but I do think every player needs to be extremely aware of the potential consequences of playing.