Hard Knocks for Gridiron Warriors

Football is one of America’s great pastimes. Back in the day, if you were the quarterback of any team — high school, college, or professional — you would have it made. Recently, however, questions have risen about a football player’s future: just how set off are football players?

It turns out, getting hit by high impacts every play is not something that is good for your body, especially your brain. As the players get more athletic and the contact more severe, more and more professional football players are suffering from dementia and other brain problems.

Take, for example, George Viser. He is a 51-year-old ex-football star for his high school, college, and professional team, the San Fransisco 49ers. Yet, the only thing he has to show for his career as a football player is memory loss. Viser, at 51, suffers from the type of memory loss typical of someone in a retirement home. Viser has trouble holding a conversation without forgetting what day it is, let alone the topic of conversation. The kicker? His short-term memory is getting worse. The question becomes an ethical one; is the football glory of the past worth the struggles players will face later in life?

Terrell Slugs of the Baltimore Ravens told reporters that hopefully next year it will be “two hand touch to get a sack.” In the past, his argument was that the risk of broken bones, torn cartilage, and disfigurement was appropriate for the paycheck and glory the NFL offers. But now he wonders if the game and all its glory is worth losing your mind.

Probably not. Nobody needs to say football is dangerous — it’s obvious. However, where should the National Football League and other football associations set the line? Planning Editor Luis Clemens says the NFL has already crossed the line. Clemens says football has become a form of manhandling that is a means to practice violence. The NFL, however, has a different view. They claim there is not enough concrete evidence to reach a certain conclusion.

The solution is not an easy one. On one hand, despite what the NFL says, football is a dangerous sport that causes serious health problems later on. Logic itself should be proof enough of its brutality: when a helmeted head is being used as a blunt instrument to knock the daylights out of a player, there can be no question that there is a problem with the sport. Is it healthy to hit your head against a cement wall if you are wearing a helmet? Of course not, and neither is football.

On the other hand, football is what consumers want, “what every red blooded American lives for,” as Clemens puts it. It is a lot harder than it seems to turn away tens of thousands of football fans looking for big hits. Evidence of that is how disingenuous the NFL becomes when they claim there is no concrete evidence that football leads to dementia and memory loss. Hard-hitting, dementia-causing play is what the consumers come to see.

Furthermore, changing the game of football would mean other high contact sports would need to be reformed as well. Boxing, wrestling, martial arts — all have high impact contact. If we change football, we would have to change these sports as well. Unfortunately for the players, the same fan base that loves the hard hitting in football loves the hard hitting in boxing, wrestling, and martial arts as well.

Should football be reformed to have less impact? Probably. Is it going to happen soon? Probably not. The fact is that the NFL is going cater to whatever the fans want, and that is hard hitting action. The solution in all this should be: stop putting your kids in football.

Neil Thakor is a second-year political science major. He can be reached at nthakore@uci.edu.